Hamas Commander Said Back in Gaza After Egypt Jailbreak

Hamas Commander Ayman Nofal, and five other Palestinian militants, had been held at Abu Zaabal prison in Cairo until it was raided in anti-government protests.

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A senior Hamas commander returned to the Gaza Strip on Saturday after breaking out of a Cairo jail during the political upheaval in Egypt, sources in the Palestinian Islamist movement said.

They said Ayman Nofal had been arrested in the Egyptian Sinai in early 2008 for allegedly planning to carry out a terror attack in Egypt. According to Egyptian media, he had been armed and was suspected of hunting members of the rival Palestinian faction Fatah who had fled from neighboring Gaza.

Five other Palestinian militants who had been held at Abu Zaabal prison in Cairo made their way back to Gaza this week, using smuggling tunnels to circumvent Egyptian border controls.

On Friday, Egyptian security sources said a member of the Lebanese Hezbollah group had escaped from prison after being jailed for planning attacks in Egypt.

Sami Chehab, sentenced last April to 15 years in prison, escaped on Sunday, they said. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has previously said Chehab was a member of a Hezbollah cell that was working to smuggle weapons through Egypt to the Gaza Strip.
Sources close to Chehab's family said he had already left Egypt.

The emergency state security court sentenced Chehab as part of a group of 26 men charged with planning attacks in Egypt. The case underscored Egyptian concern about what it sees as the destabilizing influence of Shi'ite Iran, Hezbollah's main sponsor.

A number of prominent prisoners have escaped from Egyptian jails over the last week as law and order collapsed when mass protests against President Hosni Mubarak began and police were temporarily withdrawn from the streets.

Hamas sources said Nofal had commanded the ruling group's armed forces in central Gaza.

Also on Sunday, three Palestinian security prisoners reportedly escaped back to the Gaza Strip via a smuggling tunnel. Officials in Gaza said the three, including at least one Hamas member, had fled during the upheaval and returned to the coastal territory.

Egypt meanwhile has kept its border with the Hamas-ruled territory closed amid the raging turmoil. Palestinian border official Ghazi Hamad said that the closure was expected to last several days.

The prison breakouts added to the chaos engulfing the country as anti-government protests continue to demand the ouster of longtime authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak.

Hamas military wing spokesmen at a news conference in Gaza City on December 25, 2010.Credit: Reuters

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