Gaza City - The Hamas rulers of Gaza, where an Israeli
blockade worsened after a friendly government in Cairo was overthrown, is doing
all it can to avoid a confrontation with Egypt's army, experts say.
In July, an army coup ousted Egyptian president Mohamed
Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a close Hamas ally.
During Morsi's year in power, Cairo had eased up on
movement between Egyptian territory and Gaza, which had been more tightly
controlled under ex-president Hosni Mubarak and the military regime that
temporarily took power after he was toppled.
But after the July coup, the new military-installed
authorities started turning the screws again.
They have repeatedly closed the Rafah border crossing and
destroyed hundreds of tunnels running under the town that Hamas used for years
to import fuel, building materials and other goods.
Hamas strongly condemned the Egyptian army after it
subsequently drove the Brotherhood underground in a sweeping crackdown, saying
it had committed "terrible massacres."
But Hamas has since sought to downplay any tensions.
Adnan Abu Amr of Umma University in Gaza, said:
"Hamas faces a crisis and strangulation that is forcing it to step back
and minimise the chances of a clash with Egypt. [They hope] this will stop any
unexpected Egyptian moves," he said.
The situation "requires that Hamas appear flexible.
Standing up to the Egyptian army is not in their interest."
And Hamas officials have made clear that this is their
Spokesperson Fawzi Barhum insisted in remarks to AFP that
"Gaza does not pose a threat to Egypt's security and will not do so,"
urging Egypt to "open Rafah permanently”.
Egypt says it has closed the Rafah crossing for
"security reasons" as it seeks to cleanse the Sinai Peninsula, which
borders Gaza, of Islamist militants.
Earlier this month, Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail
Haniya condemned "attempts to draw the resistance [Hamas] into sideline
battles away from the [real] enemy [Israel]."
"The government is not steering the people towards
fighting Egypt or towards aggression against any state, regardless of the
unprecedented pressure and circumstances the Palestinian people are
under," he said.
Political analyst Akram Ataallah said Hamas was
"sending a message of detente to the Egyptian army and government - that
it does not want a clash, and that the army is the sole authority that
geographically controls Hamas's life”.
In the latest show of force from Egypt, a military court
sentenced five Palestinian fishermen to a year each in jail last Wednesday for
illegally entering the country's territorial waters.
Hamas is also suffering because Egypt controls who goes
in and out through Rafah, Ataallah said.
Under Morsi, Cairo welcomed Hamas's leaders - many of
whom are based in exile, including its Qatar-based head Khaled Meshaal - to
discuss security and economic cooperation with senior officials.
No reason 'to struggle
Mussa Abu Marzuq, head of Hamas's political office, asked
on his public Facebook page this week: "Is there any sensible person who
believes that the people of Gaza would label Egypt the enemy when it's the only
one [controlling] their living standards and contact with the outside
Gaza has struggled financially since Egypt destroyed the
Rafah tunnels, with a fuel shortage that threatens to shut down its sole power
station, the Hamas energy authority says.
And the government has announced that it would have to
underpay its 40 000 employees for the third month in a row.
Haniya reiterated that there was no reason for a
"struggle against Egypt, whether it's the government, army or its people
and parties, and we shan't interfere in the internal affairs of any country”.
His comments came after accusations in the Egyptian press
that Hamas was aiding the Brotherhood militarily, with the aim of attacking
Abu Marzuq, who is based in Egypt, appeared on an
Egyptian television programme apologising for the reaction of its military wing
to the Brotherhood crackdown.
Military vehicles of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades,
carrying masked militiamen, had paraded in Gaza's streets in what was
considered a threat to Egypt's army.