Hamas on Thursday accused Egypt of besieging Gaza by flooding its smuggling tunnels and building the infrastructure for a moat of sorts on the border area to the south of the terror enclave.
Egypt has been carrying out digging work in the area for several weeks that Palestinian Arabs believe is intended to flood the last remaining tunnels between Gaza and the Sinai, where jihadist fighters have been battling Egyptian forces.
Palestinian Arabs say such moves will further isolate Gaza, where Israel is imposing a naval blockade to prevent the influx of weapons, and is inspecting goods passing through the land crossings – Israel already foiled numerous attempts to smuggle weapons materials.
Egyptian officials have declined to comment on the work criticized by Hamas, the Gazan offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that enjoys de facto control over Gaza, where residents have reported water seeping over the border.
“Why are they digging those trenches and those water pipes around Rafah?” Hamas’s terror chief in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, said during a speech to commemorate the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.
“And why discard neighborly relations and the history of Gaza, which has always defended the regional security of Egypt and Arab countries? We are telling our Egyptian brothers: Stop this project. We will do our duty against those who besiege Gaza and plot against it.”
Egypt has already established a buffer zone 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) long and half a kilometer wide along its border with Gaza, forcibly evacuating thousands of Gazans and destroying their homes.
Part of the Egyptian crackdown on Hamas comes due to the fact that it reportedly has been arming terrorists in Sinai who have been attacking Egyptian soldiers.
Since the ouster of its Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in 2013, Egypt says it has destroyed hundreds of tunnels used to transport terrorists, merchandise and arms between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula.
Hamas lost a major ally in Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and has had strained relations with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who overthrew him while army chief.
Tunnels have long been used to smuggle people and goods in and out of Gaza. Egypt controls the only crossing into Gaza not overseen by Israel.