Rafah Encircled by Israeli Forces, Palestinian Combatants Flee

Most of the Palestinian armed terrorists based in Gaza Strip’s Rafah fled north to Khan Younes during the May 22-23 weekend pause in the large-scale Israeli operation launched seven days ago. Some even dropped their weapons in their haste to get out. The IDF buildup of infantry and armor in and around Rafah Sunday night, May 23, was effected to take advantage of the unusual scarcity of armed terrorists in the town and make sure it stayed that way. The plan now is to keep Rafah encircled and its streets clear of armed men, much like the West Bank towns of Ramallah, Jenin, Tulkarm and Nablus. There, large Israeli contingents are deployed on the perimeters, poised to stage incursions in response to intelligence alerts of terrorist operations in the making. This formula has cut down terrorist attacks against Israeli targets in recent months. The difference in respect to Rafah will be that the surrounding IDF troops will be on the alert for intelligence on the location of tunnels. Raids will then be staged to blow them up.
This strategy means that the Israeli military are in for a long stay in the Rafah sector, possibly months. Tuesday morning, May 24, military sources disguised this intention with such phrases as: “Israeli troops have withdrawn from Rafah”, or “the Rafah-Khan Younes road is clear.” The road is indeed clear, but the area is not. Israeli forces have got Rafah and its satellites surrounded and they are in position to close the road at any time.
debkafile‘s military sources add that stage two of Operation Rainbow will be the widening of the Philadelphi border route by the demolition of two rows of Rafah houses, many of which have are vacant. House owners will be offered compensation for their property. The widening of the route will place Rafah inside an Israeli military vice, held between the positions guarding the border in the south and the units deployed up to the Sufa checkpoint in the north.
Our intelligence and Palestinian sources report that Yasser Arafat, who ordered the distribution of Kalashnikov assault rifles to Hamas and Jihad Islami terrorists on May 11, immediately after the battle of Zeitun in Gaza City, has taken personal charge of the Rafah confrontation. Determined not to let the Gaza Strip city go the way of the West Bank, he has placed the Khan Younes-based Palestinian general Saib Ajez, the best tactical Palestinian brain in the Gaza Strip, in command of the Rafah warfront with 20,000 men at his disposal.
Most are members of the Palestinian General Security service in Gaza, which is more a ragtag group with little combat experience than an organized military outfit. Ajez will need to rely on a hard core of disciplined Fatah and Jihad Islami units to be found in Rafah, Deir Balakh and Khan Younes who found they could work well together in the battles of Rafah.
Odd men out are the Hamas terrorists who are confused and in disarray since their leaders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi were assassinated by Israel.
Question marks hang over Arafat’s next moves and the action General Ajez is capable of given his meager resources of trained military personnel.
debkafile‘s Palestinian sources reveal that Arafat’s initiatives in the Gaza Strip and his order to distribute sidearms to Hamas and Jihad Islami terrorists provoked yet another threat by Ahmed Qureia to quit as Palestinian prime minister. He accused Arafat of raising the crisis to boiling point instead of exerting a calming influence.
Egyptian intelligence minister General Omar Suleiman will also seek to restrain Arafat when he visits Ramallah Monday, May 24. In his talks with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem, he will also, according to our sources in Cairo and Jerusalem, voice concern over the presence of the heaviest concentration of Israeli military forces on the Israel-Egyptian border since peace was signed in 1979.
Israeli officials will reply that Israel will reduce this strength the moment Egypt assumes military control of the 3-4 kilometer stretch of the Gaza Strip abutting the border, and undertakes to block Palestinian smuggling tunnels at the Sinai end.
It is worth noting that Egypt has not uttered a single critical word about the demolition of Palestinian houses in Rafah; neither will the issue figure in Suleiman’s talks in Jerusalem. Three reasons for this omission:
1. Gaza Strip commander Brig. Shmuel Zakka announced Monday that 56 Palestinian house were destroyed in Operation Rainbow. He corrected the earlier figure of 10 after investigation but it came nowhere near the many hundreds falsely reported.
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Suleiman know this because they are not nourished by partially faked Palestinian propaganda images but by aerial photos in real time.
2. Many demolitions attributed to Israel were self-inflicted. Some were caused by bomb traps that went off after being laid inside front doors to blow up Israeli soldiers. Certain scenes beamed by television screens around the world showed homes ruined in other places and other times. Rafah inhabitants have also developed a lucrative scam: they remove the roofs from their houses, fire bullets into the walls and windows and then claim compensation from UNWRA and the Palestinian Authority for the damage they suffered from Israel’s “inhuman attacks.” Once they are paid, the roofs go back on again.
3. Neither will the visiting Egyptian general make an issue of the two rows of Fatah houses condemned for demolition to widen and secure the Philadelphi Route. The same aerial photos have shown most to be vacant of civilian occupants, some abandoned two years ago.
Yet Israeli Justice Minister Tommy Lapid and his late grandmother managed to muddle their way amid all these intricacies of the Rafah situation. This says a lot for his “Jewish humanity” but not much for his grasp of Palestinian disinformation and military strategy.

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