Breakout into Israel' ahead
Abraham Rabinovich, Jerusalem | January 26, 2008
A SENIOR Hamas official warned yesterday that the next breakout from the Gaza Strip could be into Israel, with 500,000 Palestinians attempting to march towards the towns and villages from which they or their parents fled or were expelled 60 years ago.
"This is not an imaginary scenario and many Palestinians would be prepared to sacrifice their lives," said Ahmed Youssef, political adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya.
Israeli minister Ze'ev Boim said the threat must be taken seriously in light of the successful Hamas breakout into Egyptian territory on Wednesday, adding: "We must learn from what has just happened there."
Egypt moved last night to end the great Gaza breakout, which had reverberated throughout the region as all sides tried to come to grips with its implications.
Egyptian security forces announced by loudspeaker in towns near the border with the Gaza Strip that it would be closed from 3pm (midnight AEDT), with an unknown number of Palestinians still in Egypt.
Riot police turned water cannon on Palestinians trying to cross into Egypt, despite Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak saying earlier that he would not allow the people of Gaza to starve.
Hamas, riding high on its operational success, sought to parlay it into political gain by seeking Egyptian approval for new border arrangements that would give Hamas for the first time a role in the vital crossing point at Rafah, between Gaza and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
Israeli security officials said Hamas and other militant groups had already exploited the breach in the border wall to send "numerous" armed men into Sinai with the aim of infiltrating into Israel along the long, largely undefended, border between Sinai and Israel.
The Israeli road running the length of the border was yesterday shut to civilian traffic and the army deployed reinforcements in the area.
The officials said the militants were eager to hit back at Israel for heavy casualties in Israeli attacks in recent weeks and that attacks from Sinai were likely to come within the next two weeks.
Israeli civilians on vacation along Sinai's Red Sea coast were advised to return to Israel for fear Palestinian militants would try to seize them as hostages.
Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilna'i said yesterday the breakout into Egypt was an opportunity for Israel to rid itself of its responsibility to supply Gaza with electricity and water and to serve as a channel for Gaza's imports and exports.
"When Gaza is open to the other side we lose responsibility for it," he said. "We want to disconnect from it."
Egypt, however, has made it clear it does not want responsibility for the troublesome strip, whose Islamic militants are ideological partners of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. It particularly does not want indirect responsibility for the rockets fired from the strip into Israel.
The crossing point had been closed since Hamas's seizure of the Gaza Strip last June.
If Mr Mubarak were to allow new border arrangements with Hamas that would permit a free flow of people and goods, it would violate Egypt's agreement with the international "Quartet" -- the US, UN, European Union and Russia -- for a border terminal without Hamas involvement and with cameras permitting Israel to monitor the crossing.
However, Mr Mubarak would find it hard, not least for his image in the Arab world, to be seen as party to a renewed siege of the Palestinians.
Israel says it will continue its siege until the rocket firing ceases, with an invasion of Gaza a likelihood if the rocketing does not cease.
Hamas challenges Egypt's bid to close Gaza border
Fri Jan 25, 2008 5:11pm EST
By Nidal al-Mughrabi
RAFAH, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - Egyptian security forces greatly reduced their presence along the breached Gaza border late on Friday after Palestinian militants defied their attempts to seal the gaps by bulldozing a new opening.
Thousands of Palestinians crossed unhindered from Hamas-run Gaza as the Egyptians pulled back, rushing to stock up on food and fuel and shop for other goods which are in short supply because of Israel's blockade of the strip.
Adel Salman, an Egyptian government employee who lives near the border point said he had seen truckloads of police leaving.
"Palestinian movement is passing through the gate without any opposition from Egyptian security forces," Salman said.
An Egyptian security source said the forces pulled back from crossing points after a security man was shot and wounded.
Tens of thousands of Gaza Palestinians have crossed into Egypt since militants blew up a border wall on Wednesday to get around a blockade that Israel said it had imposed to try to counter cross-border rocket fire.
The fall of the Rafah wall has also punched a new hole in a U.S.-backed campaign to curb the clout of Hamas and strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, nearly eight months after the Islamist group routed Abbas's Fatah forces in Gaza.
The Egyptian government faces a difficult balancing act.
It does not want to be seen as aiding the Israeli blockade, but is under U.S. and Israeli pressure to take control. It also fears the spread of Islamist influence and the effects of becoming home to so many undocumented Palestinians.
On Friday, Egyptian forces began placing barbed wire and chain-link fences to stop more people crossing. But Hamas militants, cheered on by crowds of Gazans, used a bulldozer to flatten sections of the chain and concrete fence.
Tensions flared at one point when Palestinians threw stones at Egyptian police, who responded with batons and water cannon.
The Egyptian state news agency MENA said 22 Egyptian security men were injured while trying to contain the crowd. Egyptian security sources at the border said seven security men were injured, 6 by stones and one shot in the foot.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in an interview to be published on Saturday, urged Hamas and Abbas's Fatah to end their differences and invited both sides to meet.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, speaking in Damascus, accepted the invitation. "I and all the brothers in the Hamas leadership welcome participating and will seek to make the dialogue a success," he told Reuters.
But a Fatah lawmaker in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Abbas holds sway, said talks would be a waste of time as long as Hamas continued to control Gaza.
"There is a Palestinian consensus that Hamas should give up its control of Gaza and fall into line with President Abbas, without this the talks would be a waste of time," lawmaker Abdallah Abdallah said.
Abbas has sought U.S. and Israeli support to take control of all of the border crossings, a move Hamas hopes to prevent.
By challenging Egyptian efforts to re-close the Gaza border, Hamas hoped to win assurances from Cairo that it would have a say in any future agreement to oversee the border crossings, including the one with Egypt at Rafah, Hamas sources say.
Israeli officials said Abbas planned to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday, seeking support for controlling the crossings and for renewed peace talks despite the setbacks.
Citing the breach in Gaza's southern border, some top Israeli officials have advocated cutting Israel's remaining links with the coastal territory and putting the onus on Egypt.
Hamas sources said the group decided to open a new section in the border fence to increase pressure on Egypt.
Israel, which occupied Gaza in 1967, pulled out its troops and settlers in 2005 but still controls the strip's northern and eastern borders, airspace and coastal waters.
(Additional reporting by Mohamed Yusuf in Rafah, Yusri Mohamed in Ismailia, Egypt, and Cynthia Johnston in Cairo; and Avida Landau and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Writing by Adam Entous in Jerusalem; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)
Friday, January 25, 2008
What Will Hamas Do Next?
Posted by whit at 1/25/2008 05:42:00 PM