JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli general has accused members of Hamas in Gaza of providing support to militants linked to Islamic State in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, where the Egyptian army has fought deadly battles with Islamist insurgents in recent days.
Major-General Yoav Mordechai, who oversees Israel’s civilian policy towards Gaza, named members of Hamas’s military wing he said were involved in training fighters of Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and smuggling wounded from Sinai into Gaza for treatment.
“We know that Hamas, and I have verified information, that Hamas in Gaza is assisting ISIS Sinai Province both in organization and armaments,” Mordechai told Al Jazeera in an interview, speaking in Arabic.
He named two Hamas members, saying Abdallah Qishta was involved in training Islamic State members in Sinai and Wael Faraj, a battalion commander, had “smuggled terrorists from Sinai into Gaza Strip hospitals for medical treatment”.
It is not clear how the militants would have been moved into Gaza as Egyptian forces control the border, but there are believed to be tunnels that Egypt has not yet found and destroyed.
Hamas, an offshoot of Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood, has rejected previous such accusations by Egypt. It said Mordechai’s charges were an attempt to damage its relations with Cairo, and denied any involvement in Egypt.
“Security services in Gaza control the borders and prevent any movement into and from Gaza through the borders. Such a silly Israeli incitement will not fool anyone,” spokesman Sami Abi Zuhri told Reuters.
Hamas, an Islamist group that seized power in Gaza in 2007, has faced its own threats from Salafist and IS-linked militants in recent weeks. On Tuesday, Islamic State militants released a video threatening to turn Gaza into another “fiefdom”, as in parts of Iraq and Syria.
Egyptian forces have fought furious battles against Islamist militants in northern Sinai in recent days, with at least 17 soldiers and 100 militants killed, according to the army.
Egyptian security and military sources said there was evidence that Palestinians, including some individuals from Hamas, had participated in the Sinai battles this week, but said there was no wider organizational link.
“If we had confirmed information that Hamas as an organization participated in the attack, our response would have been very different”, one of them told Reuters.
Israel and Egypt have coordinated to put pressure on Hamas, with Israel enforcing a blockade of Gaza and limiting the flow of goods and people, while Egypt has largely closed the Rafah border crossing.
Cairo considers Hamas’s armed wing a terrorist organization, though an Egyptian court last month canceled a similar ruling against Hamas as a whole.
Israel is watching the situation closely. It has expressed its support for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, with whom it has developed closer ties since he removed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi - a senior Brotherhood leader - in 2013 following mass protests.
Reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ahmed Mohamed Hassan in Cairo; writing by Luke Baker; editing by Mark Trevelyan