Egypt summons Arab summit to appoint Inter-Arab monitors for Philadelphi

When Hamas-Damascus clamped a veto on his Gaza ceasefire ultimatum Monday, Jan. 12, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak acted fast: He summoned an Arab summit for setting in motion a plan for an inter-Arab force to monitor the Philadelphi Corridor. Arab foreign ministers meet in Kuwait Friday, Jan. 16, to prepare the summit for next week.
This step shrinks to a few days the time left for Israel’s military progress to set the pace of events in the Gaza conflict. At the moment, Israel can still present the Arab rulers with a military fait accompli in the Gaza Strip, after flattening hundreds of Palestinian buildings separating the town of Rafah from the Philadelphi corridor. Those buildings, though tenanted, were false fronts for the openings to the Hamas arms smuggling tunnels running under the Gazan-Egyptian border.
Cairo quietly tipped Jerusalem that it was not against broadening its military operations in the Gaza Strip. Razing the populated area dividing Rafah from the Philadelphi border assures Israeli tanks of firing control of this key segment of the smuggling labyrinth and smoothes the way for it capture. No inter-Arab or other international monitoring force could have controlled the sector had the buildings remained in place.
Egypt plans to match the Israeli project by flattening the buildings and tunnel openings on its side of the border. The two projects will enable Mubarak to put before the Arab summit a draft resolution for appointing a workable multi-Arab or international body to monitor cross-border traffic in this sector. Both Hamas and Israel will find it hard to oppose this plan, particularly if the US and Germany pitch in with high-tech monitoring equipment.
Mubarak’s pan-Arab initiative presents Israel with two difficulties: For one, it faces losing the prospect of a clear-cut victory over a terrorist organization. Furthermore, Egypt will be required to make concessions at Jerusalem’s expense to buy the support of Syria, Libya, Yemen and Qatar for its plan.
Hamas’ rejection of the Egyptian proposal was there a cold blast that dispelled the early hopes in Jerusalem and Cairo that Hamas had been punished enough to drop its conditions for a ceasefire.
The ball reverts now to Jerusalem, which must determine whether the army goes forward into Gaza City and Philadelphi or stands still on present battle lines.
As the Palestinian death toll rose past 900, Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya delivered a taped speech from his hiding-place Monday pledging support for any effort to end the bloodshed, ousting the enemy and opening the crossings, while on the other hand declaring that the fight must go on.
Haniya kept the door open to the Egyptian initiative without defying Khaled Meshaal, his hardline boss in Damascus.
debkafile‘s Middle East sources report that Mubarak feels the ground is burning under his feet too, but he would rather not grasp the nettle of a Gaza solution on his own. He is therefore seeking broad Arab backing for a resolution, starting with a trip to Riyadh Tuesday, Jan. 13, to ask for Saudi cooperation and a pledge of funding for the Arab force he is promoting.

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