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Four Palestinians kidnapped in Egypt's North Sinai: Hamas

Hamas officials say unknown assailants kidnapped four Palestinian passengers on a bus travelling from Cairo to Gaza
File photo shows an Egyptian army position in North Sinai near the border with Gaza (AFP)

GAZA CITY - Gunmen in Egypt boarded a bus carrying Palestinians from Cairo to Gaza and seized four of the passengers before letting the others continue, Hamas officials in the Strip said early Thursday.

Interior ministry spokesman Iyad Bezem said in a statement that the kidnapping took place late Wednesday night in the troubled North Sinai region as the bus headed for the Rafah border crossing into Gaza.

He said that his ministry had contacted its Egyptian counterpart "to establish the circumstances of what happened and demand that the Egyptians work to protect the victims and release them". 

The Palestinian news agency Ma’an quoted Bezam as saying Hamas was in high-level communications with the Egyptian authorities over the incident.

The bus was under the protection of Egyptian security forces at the time of the kidnapping, according to Ma’an.

A Hamas foreign ministry statement "condemned ... the kidnapping of a number of Palestinians".

Officials said that some of the passengers who arrived safely described the assailants as wearing "Pakistani-type" clothes and holding laptop computers on which they checked passengers' names before separating the four from the group and taking them away.

North Sinai, where Egyptian security forces are fighting an extremist insurgency, is a bastion of the Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) group, which is spearheading an insurgency that has swelled since the army's ouster of president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Formerly known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the key group in the region changed its name to "Sinai Province" when it pledged allegiance to IS in November.