World Bulletin/News Desk
A high-ranking Hamas official on Monday warned against what he described as "Israeli attempts" to spoil relations between the Gaza-based Palestinian group and Cairo, saying that Egyptians needed to understand that the Hamas-run coastal enclave constituted Egypt's "first line of defense."
"Israel is trying to send the message that it is united with Egypt against Gaza and Hamas," Gamal al-Taweel told Anadolu Agency via phone. "But we don't think this will go down well in Egypt, which has always supported the Palestinian cause."
Al-Taweel said Hamas, which took power in Gaza in 2007, has only one enemy, "which is known to be the [Israeli] occupation."
On Sunday, Major General Sami Turgeman, chief of the Israeli Army's Southern Command, said the Israeli army was in constant coordination with Egyptian authorities and closely monitoring militant activity in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
Yet he went on to express concern that "exaggerated" Egyptian pressure on Hamas in Gaza would backfire.
Egypt has launched an extensive crackdown on the smuggling tunnels linking Sinai to Gaza as Sinai-based militant groups upped the tempo of attacks on Egyptian police and army personnel across the peninsula.
In early July, Egypt's new military-backed rulers tightened restrictions at the Rafah crossing on the Egypt-Gaza border after toppling elected president Mohamed Morsi and cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood group which propelled him to power last year.
Morsi's July 3 ouster led to a deterioration of relations between Cairo and Hamas, which is an ideological offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
The crackdown on the smuggling tunnels has served to ratchet up pressure on the Gaza Strip's roughly 1.7 million inhabitants. The tunnels have long served as a lifeline for the Palestinian territory, which has suffered from a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007.
Egyptian officials allege that the tunnels are used to smuggle weapons into Egypt.
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Europrean Union immediately called the move a 'fundamental step' toward peace