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Egypt keeps Rafah border closed after policeman kidnapped

According to local residents and security sources, nine people have been kidnapped by militants in Sinai over the past two weeks
An Egyptian army vehicle is seen near Gaza's Rafah border on 4 November (AFP)

The Egyptian authorities have cancelled a decision to open the Rafah crossing with Gaza for three days this week, a Palestinian official said on Monday.

Director of Gaza crossings, Maher Abu Sabha, told Ma'an News Agency that Egypt made the decision following the kidnapping of a security officer by gunmen in the Egyptian city of Sheikh Zuweid.

The policeman was traveling on a bus from the northern Sinai city of Rafah to Al-Arish when the gunmen stopped the vehicle and took him away.

No group has claimed responsibility for the Sinai kidnapping.

A security official however told Reuters: “This seems like a terrorist operation, not a criminal one, but we are not sure if it is Ansar yet”.

Ansar is a militant group in Egypt, which used to be called Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis before recently changing its name to Sinai Province. It has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group, which has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria since last summer.

Abu Sabha condemned the kidnapping and said that such actions directly harm Palestinians in Gaza.

"Unfortunately the suffering of tens of thousands of Gazans, including patients, students, visa holders and stranded wives, will continue," Abu Sabha said.

Rafah is the only border crossing connecting Palestinians in Gaza to the outside world that is not controlled by Israel. Its regular closure is part of the jointly-enforced Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the besieged territory.

The blockade has led to a persisting humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Currently, the entry of construction material for the devastated strip's post-war reconstruction has been limited, desite promises made by the international community.

Thee bodies found in Sinai

Meanwhile, Egyptian security forces also found three bodies in Sinai, a security source said Monday.

"Three bodies were found after being dumped by unidentified militants on main roads [in the province]," the source, requesting anonymity, told Anadolu news agency.

The source, however, gave no further details as to how the people had been killed. There has been no claim of responsibility for the deaths.

On Saturday, three bodies – two of which were decapitated – were found in northern Sinai.

According to local residents and security sources, nine people in the area have been kidnapped by militants over the past two weeks.

It is believed that militant groups in Sinai kill those suspected of "collaborating" with the Egyptian or Israeli authorities.

Hundreds of policemen and soldiers have been killed in Sinai since the army toppled President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

Kidnappings of members of the security forces are rare.

Any sign that militants are conducting kidnappings is likely to raise fresh security concerns in Egypt, where the vital tourism industry and economy have suffered from violence.

Egypt’s insurgency is concentrated in the Sinai, which borders Gaza, Israel, and the Suez Canal. But attacks have also occurred in cities, including Cairo.

The presence of Egyptian militants thriving in the chaos of neighbouring Libya is complicating efforts to eradicate the insurgency in Sinai, as security sources say the militants are opposed to the Cairo government and have established ties in the area.