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Egypt buries soldiers slain in border attack

Wednesday, August 08, 2012    

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CAIRO, Egypt (AP) — Egypt yesterday buried the 16 soldiers killed by suspected Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula near the borders with Gaza and Israel, as pressure built on the new Egyptian president to back away from plans to ease restrictions on crossings to the Palestinian territory.

The ceremonies were disrupted by hecklers who chanted against President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Gaza's Hamas rulers. Both Islamist groups condemned the killings, but the deadly attack is likely to prevent any relaxation of security along the border and fuel Egyptian fears of Palestinian militancy spilling across.

Mourners prayed for the dead at a mosque in an east Cairo suburb. Then the coffins, wrapped in Egypt's red-white-and-black flag, were taken to a nearby square where a military ceremony led by Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi was conducted.

The military has said that 35 gunmen attacked an Egyptian border post Sunday, killing the 16 before commandeering an armoured vehicle they later used to try to storm across the border into Israel. It has accused Palestinians from Gaza of aiding the gunmen by firing mortar shells at a nearby border post just as they were attacking.

The killers are believed to be part of a low-level Islamist insurgency that has been active in Sinai for a decade, and which is allied with al-Qaida-inspired groups of militants in both Gaza and Sinai.

Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and Gaza's Hamas come from a different Islamist political tradition than the al-Qaida-inspired militants. Mourners nonetheless appeared to hold them responsible for the deaths.

"The Brotherhood and Hamas are one dirty hand," some chanted.

With animosity against the Brotherhood riding high, Morsi did not attend the funeral. His spokesman Yasser Ali said that the president, who is accompanied by a security detail, did not want his presence to impede "popular participation." The president had visited the scene of the attack the day before.

Prime Minister Hesham Kandil did attend the funeral and was heckled by mourners. Some pelted him with shoes, while others held their shoes high, pointing their soles at him in a gesture of contempt, before he was whisked away by aides.

Kandil is not a Brotherhood member, but he is a devout Muslim said by some media reports to be sympathetic to the group.

Morsi has sought to reverse ousted leader Hosni Mubarak's hardline policy toward Hamas, promising to ease the hardship endured by Gaza's 1.6 million residents as a result of years of siege by Mubarak's Egypt and his Israeli allies.

The new president has promised to open the Rafah border crossing — Gazans' only gateway to the outside world — round the clock and allow goods to move to and out of the coastal territory. With their shared enmity for Israel, Morsi and Gaza's rulers had appeared ready to strike an enduring alliance.

But Sunday's attack and the Egyptian military's assertion of Palestinian involvement may already have undermined that prospect. If Morsi maintains close ties with Hamas now, he could come under criticism for prioritising the Brotherhood's agenda over the nation's interests.

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