CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian authorities deported seven Palestinians to the Gaza Strip after they were detained for security reasons upon their arrival to Cairo airport, the state news agency said Saturday. It was the latest development suggesting growing tensions between Egypt and Gaza's Hamas rulers.
The group was arrested in the same week that a state-owned Egyptian magazine published a report accusing Hamas of orchestrating one of the bloodiest attacks against the Egyptian army in decades — the killing 16 of soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula in August 2012.
Hamas officials deny involvement in the August attack and say the seven Palestinians were wrongfully held.
The men were detained Tuesday after flying in from Syria, the MENA agency reported, because they did not have exit stamps. They were released three days later after investigations showed no illegal activity.
Syrian authorities do not stamp passports issued by the Palestinian Authority, which has a measure of limited self-rule over Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Instead, they stamp papers that Palestinians hold as proof of entry and exits instead.
"Thank God for their safe arrival," wrote leading Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk on his Facebook page.
Hamas had poor relations with former longtime Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak, who cooperated with Israel in imposing a blockade on the tiny coastal sliver after the militant Islamic group seized control there following elections in 2005.
After Egypt's 2011 uprising that ousted Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power in Egypt, raising hopes in Gaza that Cairo's relationship with the enclave would improve. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Egypt's current President Mohammed Morsi hails.
But for the past several weeks Egyptian authorities have been destroying smuggling tunnels that crisscross the Egypt-Gaza border. Gaza smugglers use the tunnels to ship in cheap fuel, scarce construction materials and commercial goods into the territory, which is largely under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade. Other tunnels are used to haul in weapons and sneak in militants.
But Egypt's military, in particular, appears to view Hamas with suspicion, in part because the smuggling network into Gaza appears to overlap with Islamist militant groups in the Sinai Peninsula. The defense minister recently warned that the military is prepared to confront "anyone who dares to harm Egypt's security or armed forces."