JAFFA, Israel – Islamic State militants in the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula have burned large quantities of cigarettes slated for the Gaza Strip, a video released by the IS-affiliated Amaq news agency shows.
Hamas is expected to incur heavy financial losses, sources in the group told Breitbart Jerusalem, because the organization’s “custom authorities” now cannot tax the shipment, which was seized on the Egyptian side of the border town of Rafah.
Hamas’ budget relies heavily on taxation of smuggled goods. In a recent bid to cope with the ongoing financial crisis in the Strip, Hamas more than doubled the taxes on cigarettes, from NIS 2 (US ¢50) to NIS 5 (US $1.25) per pack.
Gaza’s treasury has previously admitted that nine million cigarette packs are smuggled into Gaza every month, grossing $240 million annually.
IS’s act of defiance comes against a backdrop of a recent rapprochement between its local affiliate, Welayat Sinai, and Hamas.
Breitbart Jerusalem previously reported that Shadi al-Menai, one of the leaders of Wilayat Sinai, visited Gaza in a bid to mediate between Hamas and local Salafi groups after clashes erupted, resulting in the arrest of dozens of jihadists by Hamas forces.
Last month, a leading Salafi source told Breitbart Jerusalem that Menai mediated a deal whereby Hamas would give the Gaza Salafi opposition groups more leeway in exchange for Wilayat Sinai’s help in bypassing the Egyptian army’s restrictions on smuggling rocket parts into Gaza.
The resumption of arms smuggling, combined with renewed Iranian financial support, have greatly beefed up the training of Hamas’ military wing.
Abu Khaled, head of the media office of the Al Qassam Brigades, told Breitbart Jerusalem that he declined to comment on matters of national security.
This is not the first report of Hamas-IS cooperation in arms smuggling.
A Middle East think tank charged in December that information indicates Hamas has been paying off the Islamic State’s Sinai branch to smuggle weapons into Gaza. “Over the past two years, IS Sinai helped Hamas move weapons from Iran and Libya through the peninsula, taking a generous cut from each shipment,” stated a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.