US and Israeli intelligence sources report that the Hamas coup in breaking down the border between Gaza and Egyptian Sinai was timed for the opening Wednesday, Jan. 23 of the Palestinian National Congress in Damascus. This event was organized by Tehran and Damascus to counter the US-promoted Annapolis conference and discredit Mahmoud Abbas’ diplomatic track with Israel under the US aegis.
Tehran and Damascus brought to the congress some 900 Palestinian delegates of 17 radical Palestinian opposition groups and 300 “special guests” from across the Arab world. It was opened by hard-line Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal with a speech which glorified his Gazan brothers’ feat in breaking down the Gaza-Egyptian border as the greatest Palestinian achievement for years.
He declared that an “end to the occupation” in all parts of Palestine must take precedence over Palestinian statehood – a direct challenge to the Bush administration’s two-state thesis.
Rice and David Welch, assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, made a point of warning Mubarak that he must act expeditiously to restore border security because the entire Washington Palestinian strategy hinging on Abbas and the Annapolis declarations hangs in the balance.
But the Egyptian president replied that his main worry is not the Palestinian issue but concern that his own opposition, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, may adopt Hamas tactics and stir up trouble in his cities. Mubarak said he would leave the situation in northern Sinai as it is for the time being. In other words, his troops would not force the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who swarmed out of Gaza to return home.
Such an effort would be a tall order, anyway. According to information reaching Cairo, Hamas has instructed large numbers of Palestinians who fled Gaza to stay where they are. Their assignment is to create a bridge between Gaza and the 40,000 Palestinians living in North Sinai. This population ballooned fivefold on Jan. 23 in the space of a few hours.
Furthermore, the Palestinian department of Egypt’s security services is on high alert after learning that the 130,000 Palestinians living in communities in Cairo, Alexandria and the Suez Canal cities are preparing to help their Gazan brothers steal into Egypt.
debkafile‘s Gulf sources reported eralir that Hamas leaders backed by Saudi Arabia, are pushing for an Arab summit, to be called an “Emergency Conference for Gaza” to take place in the Sinai town of Sharm al-Sheikh.
Their plan is for Saudi King Abdullah and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to jointly force Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas to stand alongside Khaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniya and patch up their quarrel for the sake of Palestinian unity.
This summit would empower Hamas to dictate a limited de facto ceasefire, to force the IDF to agree to holding its fire in return for the suspension of the Palestinian missile offensive. The arms smuggling tunnels would be excluded from the truce deal.
Senior Israeli military officers object to such ceasefire terms because Hamas and its allies would be free to resume their missile assaults at will and gear up undisturbed for escalated aggression at a time of their choosing.