London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egyptian police closed the Rafah border crossing with Gaza on Friday after seven Egyptian seurity officers were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in the Sinai Peninsula near the border with Israel earlier this week.
Egyptian Security and Bedouin sources said that a group of policemen and army officers travelling in taxis from Arish to Rafah were stopped and kidnapped by armed men. It was later confirmed by police that one of the abducted security officers had been released to dispatch the kidnappers demands. Reports indicate that the kidnappers are demanding the release of jailed relatives.
In response to this incident, Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi met with the interior and defense ministers on Thursday to discuss the situation; this is not the first incident of its kind in the Sinai Peninsula. The Sinai region generally has become increasingly lawless following the January 25 revolution, with militants exploiting the lack of security to carry out cross-border raids.
Earlier this month, a man selling alcohol was shot dead by gunmen and fighters fired rockets from Sinai into Israel, according to Al Jazeera.
Egyptian police sealed off the Rafah border with the Gaza Strip in response to the kidnapping. According to the Associated Press, security officials claimed the crossing will remain closed until the Egyptian security officers are released.
For the 1.6 million Palestinians residing in Gaza, Rafah is the only exit available to them. BBC’s Rushdie Abu Alouf, one of the many Palestinians stuck on the Egyptian side, reported that the sick and elderly have been waiting under the scorching sun for the border crossing to open.
The Palestinian Ma’an news agency quoted the general director of crossings and borders as saying that 800 Palestinians were stranded on the Egyptian side on Saturday morning, with the number expected to reach 1,000.
Ma’an also reported that should negotiations with the kidnappers fail, Egypt’s defence minister will send a large combat force to Sinai to free the kidnap victims.
Gaza’s Interior Ministry have proclaiming a state of alert along the border with Egypt in case the kidnappers tried to sneak the Egyptians into Gaza.
In related news, hundreds of Egyptians gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday in protest again Mursi’s government. The protestors demanded early presidential elections and a unifying constitution. Opposition groups also expressed accusations that the government is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and that President Mursi acts only in their interest. Egypt’s official state news agency MENA reported that the security forces fired tear gas at the youth who were throwing firebombs and stones.