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Apr 21, 9:12 AM EDT

Hamas deploys forces on Egypt-Gaza border over IS concerns


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AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

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Conflict in the Middle East

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- The militant Hamas group deployed forces on Thursday along the Egypt-Gaza border to counter Cairo's concerns that it is aiding Islamic State extremists in Egypt's lawless Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt accuses Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, of providing a safe haven for the IS affiliate in Sinai through a network of smuggling tunnels. Hamas denies the charge.

Hamas and a high-ranking Egyptian security official said the deployment is part of an agreement reached with Egyptian officials last month.

"This emphasizes the Palestinian stand to tighten security on the border and nothing that harms Egypt will come out of Gaza," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

The Egyptian security official said the deployment is part of the new deal with Egypt that sees Hamas halt tunnel construction in return for opening the Rafah border crossing, Gaza's main gateway to the outside world. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

On Thursday, armed Hamas men took up positions along the 13-kilometer (8-mile) border, with fighters in pick-up trucks patrolling back and forth.

Relations between Hamas and Egypt soured after the 2013 military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Hamas is an offshoot of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Egypt has been battling IS militants and in 2014 launched a fierce campaign on the underground tunnels with Gaza, destroying many of them. It has also kept the Rafah crossing largely sealed. Abu Zuhri said he hopes that the deal will lead to the crossing's reopening.

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Associated Press Writer Maggie Michael contributed to this report from Cairo.

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