Following sharp criticism of President Mohamed Morsi’s government for failing to investigate a massacre in the Sinai last August that left 16 Egyptian soldiers and officers dead, Al-Ahram Al-Arabi magazine reported this week that three top members of Hamas' military wing, Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigade, were behind the attack.
According to the magazine, one of those involved was Ayman Nofal, a Hamas commander detained three years ago in El-Arish for allegedly smuggling weapons and being connected to a Hezbollah cell operating in the Sinai. Nofal escaped from prison during the revolution in Egypt and reached Gaza via a tunnel on Feb. 5, 2011. The second suspect is Muhammad Ibrahim Salah Abu Shamala (Abu Khalil), and the third is Raed al Atar, who masterminded the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit.
Ashraf Badr, editor-in-chief of the state-run Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, said in an interview with Egypt TV that the information had come from a Hamas source and, if proven to be true, will mean many negative consequences.
Meanwhile, senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar denied the involvement of any Hamas leaders in the attack, which took place on the border between Egypt and Gaza. He said the magazine had “collaborated with Israel” and added that the three men in question never leave Gaza. They are wanted by Israel, said Zahar.
In a press conference held in Gaza following the publication of the article, the Hamas military wing threatened to sue the newspaper’s editor.
“We will file legal proceedings against the editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram over his false claims,” Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Ubayda said. He added that the magazine’s writers should prioritize siding with the Palestinian people.
In response to the claims, Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Khalaf, an adviser to Nasser Military Academy, said that it was more likely an armed organization with links to Iran was responsible for killing the soldiers. He said that already three people had been arrested and are accused of belonging to a group called Soldiers of Islam.
Earlier, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood said that the attack could be attributed to the Israeli intelligence service. The Brotherhood said that this operation was an attempt to destabilize the Islamic regime of Morsi.
In August, security and army sources accused elements in Gaza of supporting the attackers.
It is well known that there is a dispute between the Egyptian army and the Egyptian government regarding the demolition of tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. A leader of Hamas told me that the editor of Al-Ahram has a good relationship with the leadership of the Egyptian army, therefore the publication of this report at this particular time, is in order to justify the demolition of underground tunnels by the Egyptian army, arguing that they pose a danger to the security of Egypt.
The names mentioned in the report are three of the most important leaders in Hamas. Perhaps the most important among them is Raed al Atar, who might be the commander-in-chief of Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigade since the killing of Ahmed Jabari. Accordingly, no one in Gaza believes that they are involved in this massacre.
By the way, since Jabari’s killing Hamas no longer publishes the name of its military wing's leader to the media for security purposes.
I think the Egyptian government needs to focus on another group called Jaljalat (جلجلت). It is a splinter group of Hamas, its leader is Mumtaz Dughmush. He is also leader of Jaish el Islam (Army of Islam). It is worth mentioning that in August Egyptian security sources said that Jaljalat were involved in the massacre.
For your information, Jaljalat group split from Hamas because they criticize it for accepting truce with Israel. In other words, it is a group of the extremist members among Hamas. This group was also accused by US government of killing three American officials in Bet Hannon in Gaza.
As for the role of Iran in this massacre, I do not exclude this possibility knowing that many elements linked to Iran and Hezbollah escaped from Egyptian prisons during the revolution in January 2011. Nobody knows if they ever left Egypt or if some of them are still in Sinai.