Egypt's President Abdel Fatah Sisi has once again proven that he and his country will not tolerate any threats from Hamas or other Palestinians.
The crisis that erupted between Sisi's regime and Hamas after the removal from power of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi two years ago, reached it peak in the past few days with the kidnapping of four Hamas operatives in Sinai.
The four men were snatched from a bus shortly after crossing from the Gaza Strip into Egyptian territory on August 19. Reports said that unidentified gunmen stopped the bus and kidnapped the four Hamas men, who are wanted by Egypt for their involvement in terrorism.
A bus carrying Palestinians drives through the Rafah crossing, from the Gaza Strip to Egyptian Sinai, on August 23, 2015. (Image source: Aqsatv video screenshot)
Although initial reports suggested that the kidnappers belonged to a salafi-jihadi group based in Sinai, some Hamas officials have accused Egyptian security forces of being behind the abduction. The Hamas officials even issued veiled threats against Sisi and the Egyptian authorities, and said that they held them fully responsible for the safety of the Hamas men.
A statement issued by Hamas warned the Egyptian authorities against harming the four men. "These men were the victims of deception and their only fault is that they are from the Gaza Strip," the statement said. "This incident shows that the criminals are not afraid to target our people."
Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzouk said that his movement holds the Egyptian authorities fully responsible for any harm caused to the abductees. He said that the kidnapping raises many questions and its circumstances remain unclear.
Hamas claims that salafi-jihadi groups in Sinai have informed its representatives that they did not kidnap the four men. According to Hamas officials, the abduction took place near the border with the Gaza Strip -- an area where the Egyptian army maintains a large presence.
Sources in the Gaza Strip, however, have confirmed that the four men belong to Hamas's armed wing, Ezaddin al-Qassam. The sources said that the men were apparently on their way to Iran for military training. The sources pointed out that the four had received permission from the Egyptian authorities to leave the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing. The visas, however, are supposedly for civilians, not for Hamas operatives.
Hamas's threats against Egypt have, meanwhile, enraged the Egyptian authorities as well as some top journalists in Cairo.
Egyptian authorities responded by refusing to give permission to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and some leaders of his movement to travel to Qatar and Lebanon through the Rafah border crossing. The Hamas leaders were hoping to hold talks with some of their colleagues in those two countries about the possibility of reaching a long-term truce with Israel.
The Egyptians' refusal to allow the Hamas leaders to leave the Gaza Strip has further strained relations between the two sides. Hamas representatives in the Gaza Strip were quoted as accusing the Egyptian authorities of "conspiring" against the movement and all Palestinians.
In Cairo, Egyptian security officials denied any link to the kidnapping of the four Hamas men. However, the denials have fallen on deaf ears and no one in Hamas seems to believe the Egyptian authorities. Even worse, Hamas representatives continued over the past few days to issue warnings and threats against Egypt.
As in the past, each time tensions rise between Hamas and Egypt, the Egyptians unleash some of their senior journalists against the Islamist movement. Since President Morsi's removal from power, the Egyptians have displayed zero tolerance when it comes to Hamas. They are particularly fed up with reports about Hamas's increased involvement in their internal affairs and links to terror groups in Sinai.
During the last war between Israel and Hamas, several Egyptian journalists and public figures openly expressed hope that the Israelis would destroy the movement for once and for all. Other journalists in Cairo, who are openly affiliated with the Sisi regime, have even urged their government to launch attacks against Hamas bases in the Gaza Strip.
This week, and in wake of the renewed tensions between Hamas and Egypt, Egyptian journalists resumed their rhetorical attacks against the movement. The question that most of these journalists asked was: What are Hamas members doing on Egyptian soil in the first place? The journalists accused Hamas of exploiting Egypt's humanitarian gestures to smuggle its men out of the Gaza Strip.
One of these journalists, Dina Ramez, who is known as a staunch supporter of President Sisi, launched a scathing attack on Hamas, calling its members and leaders "cockroaches."
Referring to the Hamas threats against Egypt, Ramez said: "Has anyone ever heard of cockroaches or ants that could threaten lions? These cockroaches belong to Hamas, which is threatening Egypt following the abduction of four of its men. I want to ask the Hamas cockroaches a simple question: What were your four men doing in Sinai? Haven't you denied in the past the presence of any Hamas men in Sinai? So where did these men pop up from? I dare you to approach the border with Egypt. We have confidence in our army and our response will be painful. It will be a strong and deterring response against any cockroach that dares to come close to our border or threaten Egypt."
Regardless of the identity of the kidnappers, the incident shows that Sisi and the Egyptian authorities continue to view Hamas as a threat to Egypt's national security. The incident also proves that Hamas does not hesitate to take advantage of Cairo's humanitarian gestures to smuggle its men out of the Gaza Strip. Obviously, the four Hamas men were not on their way to receive medical treatment or pursue their studies in Egypt or any other country.
That they are members of Ezaddin al-Qassam speaks for itself. Instead of dispatching its fighters to Iran and Turkey, Hamas should have allowed medical patients and university students to leave the Gaza Strip. But Hamas does not care about the well-being of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Rather, it cares about sending its men to Iran and Turkey to receive military and security training.
This practice by Hamas is something that the Egyptian authorities have come to understand, which is why they are refusing to reopen the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. The question now is whether the international community will understand Hamas's true intentions and plans -- namely to prepare for another war against Israel.