At least five Egyptian soldiers were killed and ten more wounded Wednesday night when armed men attacked an Egyptian army base in Rafah in the Sinai. Egyptian sources attribute the attack to the Sinai affiliate of Islamic State (ISIS).
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The militants fired on the base with mortars, reported Egyptian media. One of the mortar shells landed on an ammunition storage facility, which then exploded, leading to the large number of casualties.
The Egyptian Air Force sent attack helicopters after the armed men.
A military spokesman said later on Thursday that Egyptian troops in the Rafah area killed three armed men who tried to place an explosive device on a road used by Egyptian security forces in the area.
Palestinian sources in Gaza say a Hamas delegation visited Cairo this week and agreed with Egyptian intelligence organizations to increase its supervision of the border between the Gaza Strip and the Egyptian part of Rafah, the aim being to prevent ISIS members from moving back and forth from Sinai to the Strip.
The talks in Cairo focused on the issue of Egyptian national security and increased control over the border, in return for freedom of movement for Hamas members who travel to Egypt, say Gazan sources. However, the two sides did not reach agreement to open the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
The main goal of the Egyptian government and security forces in the talks with Hamas was to restore calm to Sinai and prevent the transfer of materiel to Sinai terror groups, whether it originates with Sinai Bedouin or with Gazan elements, said Egyptian sources.
The talks broke the ice between the two sides, Gazan sources said. Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of the Hamas political bureau, said the visit “opened a new page and was a discussion between friends with Egypt.”
The possibility was raised of allowing Hamas leaders to travel to Cairo and then on to other countries as part of official visits.
The next test will be the trip of Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza’s prime minister, to Cairo and then on to Qatar and possibly Iran, said Gazan sources, who added that Haniyeh’s trip will testify to a change for the better in relations with Egypt.
At the same time, the Egyptians are still conditioning the opening of the Rafah crossing to the return there of the Palestinian Authority presidential guard for security. The Egyptians say they will not reopen the crossing if security there is in the hands of Hamas police.
Some reports from Egypt, however, claimed the talks between Hamas and Egyptian intelligence failed as Hamas has been accused of involvement in the killing of Egyptian Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat last year. In addition, the atmosphere at the talks was tense because of Egyptian claims that Hamas is cooperating with ISIS in the Sinai.