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Protesting Egyptian police block Israel border crossing

A member of Hamas security forces stands guard in front of the closed gate of the Rafah crossing with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip May
A member of Hamas security forces stands guard in front of the closed gate of the Rafah crossing with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip May

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian police enraged by the kidnapping of seven of their colleagues by Islamist gunmen in the Sinai Peninsula blocked a commercial border crossing with Israel on Sunday to pressure the Cairo government to help free the men, security sources said.

A video posted online on Sunday showed seven blindfolded men, who said they were the hostages, begging President Mohamed Mursi to free political detainees in Sinai in exchange for their own release.

Mursi said "all options are open" to free the hostages. "We will not succumb to any blackmail," he wrote on Twitter.

Gunmen demanding the release of jailed Islamist militants seized the policemen and soldiers on the road between the Sinai towns of el-Arish and Rafah on Thursday.

The video could not be independently verified, but state newspaper Al-Ahram said security services were looking into the authenticity of the video.

Police have been blocking another border post, the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip, since Friday to press Mursi, who belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, to help free the seven.

Dozens of police expanded the protest on Sunday by blocking the al-Awja border crossing 40 km (25 miles) south of Rafah, used by trucks that carry goods between Egypt and Israel, the two security sources said.

"Truck traffic has totally stopped," one said.

Ofer Lefler, spokesman for the Israel Airports Authority, which also controls Israel's land crossings, confirmed traffic had stopped in both directions because of the police action at al-Awja, known in Israel as the Nitzana crossing.

He said goods in and out of the Gaza Strip accounted for the vast majority of traffic through the gateway.

Hardline Islamist groups in North Sinai have exploited the erosion of state authority since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 to attack targets in Egypt and Israel.

Presidential spokesman Omar Amer told Egyptian state television that no talks were taking place with the kidnappers and that it would be unacceptable to negotiate with criminals.

The army shifted several units of troops to North Sinai "in preparation for taking part in a large-scale military operation to release the abducted soldiers if negotiations came to failure," the State Information Service said in a statement in English on Sunday.

(Reporting by Yousri Mohamed in Ismailia, Ori Lewis in Jerusalem, and Ali Abdelaty and Shaimaa Fayed in Cairo; Writing by Alexander Dziadosz and Maggie Fick; Editing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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