Israel says Hamas linked to IS assault on Egyptians

Egyptians carry the coffin of First Lieutenant Mohamed Ashraf, killed in clashes with Islamic State group jihadists in the Sinai, during his funeral in Ashmoun in the Nile delta on June 2, 2015 (AFP Photo/Sameh Abouhasan)

Jerusalem (AFP) - A senior Israeli officer said Thursday the militant Palestinian movement Hamas played a part in attacks by the Islamic State group on Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula.

"In the latest attacks Hamas gave support with weapons and organisation to groups supporting IS," Major General Yoav Mordechai, said in an interview in Arabic with Al-Jazeera television.

The Egyptian military said 17 soldiers and 100 militants had been killed but medical and security officials said the death toll was at least 70 people, mostly soldiers. Dozens of jihadists also died.

The Israeli army Thursday ordered the closure until further notice of Route 12, a desert highway along the Sinai border, "in light of the current situation."

Media said the closure would go into effect at 5 am (0200 GMT).

"We have examples of Hamas commanders who actively took part in such support," said Mordechai, quoted in a Hebrew-language summary of the interview released by his office.

"Wael Faraj, a battalion commander in the military wing of Hamas, smuggled wounded from Sinai into the Gaza Strip," it quoted him as telling the Doha-based broadcaster.

"Abdallah Qishta, a senior Hamas military instructor, trained operatives of "the Sinai Province organisation", he added, referring to the Egyptian affiliate of IS.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas, the rulers of the Gaza Strip, which adjoins northern Sinai.

Egyptian authorities have in the past accused Hamas of backing jihadists who have carried out deadly attacks on security forces in the Sinai Peninsula.

The Egyptian army says it has destroyed hundreds of tunnels used for smuggling supplies and arms between Sinai and Gaza, also used by militants to infiltrate Egypt.

In August 2011, gunmen sneaked across the frontier into Israel and carried out a series of shooting ambushes on Route 12, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of the Red Sea resort of Eilat, killing eight Israelis and wounding 25.