DEBKAfile Exclusive: Hamas’ seizure of Northern Sinai from Egypt sends Washington, Jerusalem and Cairo into tense consultations
January 23, 2008, 8:49 PM (GMT+02:00)
Gazans mob streets of Egyptian side of Rafah
Senior military sources told DEBKAfile that the strategic feat achieved by Hamas Tuesday night, in capturing a section of Sinai from Egyptian forces, is irreversible. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert held tense talks on the crisis Wednesday night, Jan. 23.
By demolishing the 10-km concrete barrier dividing the Gaza Strip from Egyptian Sinai, Hamas, backed by 200,000 Palestinians who surged across Wednesday, has acquired a new stronghold outside Israel’s military reach. US and Israeli intelligence sources report that Hamas laid the ground for its coup and timed it deliberately for the opening Wednesday 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.