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Egyptian Police Protest At Gaza Strip Border Crossing

posted 19 May 2013, 15:58 by Mpelembe   [ updated 19 May 2013, 16:00 ]

Egyptian soldiers and police stage a protest at a Gaza border crossing in solidarity with their kidnapped colleagues.

RAFAHEGYPT (MAY 19, 2013) (REUTERS) -  Egyptian police and army soldiers enraged by the kidnapping of seven of their colleagues by Islamist gunmen in the Sinai Peninsula held a sit-in at the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip on Sunday (May 19).

Police have been blocking the Rafah crossing since Friday (May 17) in a bid to pressure the Cairo government to help free the men, security sources said.

Police also blocked a commercial border crossing with Israel on Sunday.

An online video that appeared online on Sunday showed seven blindfolded men, who said they were the hostages, begging President Mohamed Mursi to free political detainees in Sinai in exchange for their own release.

Gunmen demanding the release of jailed Islamist militants seized the policemen and soldiers on the road between the Sinai towns of el-Arish and Rafah on Thursday (May 16).

State newspaper Al-Ahram said security services were looking into the authenticity of the video.

Soldiers protesting at the Rafah border on Sunday said they would continue their protests until the safe return of their colleagues.

"We will be protesting until our colleagues return. Any negotiations - by the Interior Minister, the Defence Minister - it doesn't matter. The border crossing will not happen until the recruits return. Any official can come and visit, but he has to bring the recruits with him when he comes. Without that - thank you but we don't want anyone to come," said Osama, as he stood shoulder to shoulder with his colleagues.

The mother of one of the recruits who appeared in the online video, Ahmed Abdul Badih, said she could not understand why her son had been taken.

"They kidnapped him. Why? I want to know? What did he do? He didn't do anything, so why did they take him?" she said.

Dozens of police expanded the protest on Sunday by blocking the al-Awja border crossing 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Rafah, used by trucks that carry goods between Egypt and Israel, the two security sources said.

Hardline Islamist groups in North Sinai have exploited the erosion of state authority since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 to attack targets in Egyptand Israel.

The Governor of North SinaiAl-Sayyed Harhur said the militants who carried out the kidnappings wanted to derail stability in Sinai.

"It could be a number of possibilities, they could be people who believe that stability in Sinai isn't in their interest. They could be people whose interest is to internationalise the issue and to empty out Sinai so as to bring peace keeping forces; these are possibilities," Harhur told journalists.

Presidential spokesman Omar Amer told Egyptian state television that no talks were taking place with the kidnappers and that it would be unacceptable to negotiate with criminals.

The army shifted several units of troops to North Sinai "in preparation for taking part in a large-scale military operation to release the abducted soldiers if negotiations came to failure," the State Information Service said in a statement in English on Sunday.