Border 'Ambush' Strenthens Hamas, Analyst Says

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Egypt announced on Friday that it would soon close its border with the Gaza Strip, but Israel is concerned that Palestinian terrorists may have taken advantage of the smashed-open border to cross into the Sinai Desert, from which they could infiltrate into Israel and carry out terror attacks.

Hamas emerged the big winner in the border-breach situation, counter-terrorism expert Shalom Harari said on Friday.

Hamas wants to prevent Israel from threatening it; and Hamas also wants to show the Palestinians that militants can fire rockets at Israel while at the same time providing Palestinians with an open border, Harari told Cybercast News Service.

Hamas managed to mount a "very good ambush" against Israel, Harari said, first by lying to the Western world -- and then by pressuring leaders in Arab capitals across the Middle East to support the Palestinians.

As for the lies, Harari pointed to press photos of Hamas lawmakers sitting in the dark. The lawmakers claimed that because of the Israeli border closure, there was not enough fuel in Gaza to operate the power plant. But press reports said the photos were staged to create a false impression.

For the last two days, tens of thousands of Palestinians have crossed the Egyptian-Gaza border to shop for supplies. Hamas blew up the border fence, a move that reportedly had been planned for months. However, the border breach was presented to the outside world as a spontaneous move by Palestinians made desperate by an Israeli supply blockade.

Israeli decided to seal all border crossings into the Gaza Strip last week, in response to continuing and escalating Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he allowed the Palestinians to cross into Egypt - across the blown-up fence -- because Israel was "starving" the Palestinians.

On Friday, Egyptian police with shields formed a human chain to try to stem the flow of Palestinians into Egypt, but thousands were able to pass through anyway, reports said.

"Most of them are average persons," Harari told Cybercast News Service. "But probably many, many terrorists succeeded [in crossing the border]." There is why the army is on such a high alert, he said.

The Israeli Army warned on Thursday that Palestinian terrorists probably were among the hundreds of thousands who crossed the border over the last few days. The army raised its level of alert, closed the road along the Israeli-Egyptian border to civilian traffic and sent warnings to Israeli communities in the area on Thursday.

The approximately 140-mile long Israeli-Egyptian border is porous and winds mostly through desert terrain, which Israel says it cannot fully secure.

Last year, the only suicide bombing inside Israel was carried out by a Palestinian terrorist who crossed the border from the Gaza Strip into the Sinai Desert and then infiltrated Israeli at the coastal city of Eilat. Three Israelis were killed in that attack last January.

But security forces are concerned not only about the possibility of terrorists infiltrating into Israel, they are also concerned about the possibility that Palestinian terrorists could carry out attacks on Israelis vacationing in the Sinai Desert - a popular spot, particularly for young Israelis.

Israel's National Security Council counter-terrorism bureau issued a warning on Thursday calling on Israelis to avoid travel to the area. It urged those who are in Sinai to come home.

"Warnings of terrorist attacks in Sinai have recently intensified," a statement from the Prime Minister's Office said. "Terrorists in Sinai are working to abduct Israelis in Sinai and convey them to the Gaza Strip."

The open border between the Gaza Strip and the Egyptian Sinai Desert makes it easier for terrorists to travel back and forth, the warning said.

This would not be the first time vacationing Israelis have been targeted in the Sinai. In 2004, at least 19 people were killed in a triple suicide bombing targeting Israelis at two separate Sinai resorts.

Despite the warnings, some Israelis see the open Gaza-Egypt border as an opportunity for Israel to complete its "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip and pass the buck for the Palestinians' care to the Egyptians.

Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai (and others) suggested that Israel should give up all responsibility for the Gaza Strip and let Egypt supply electricity and water to the Palestinians.

Egypt rejected the notion.

More terror attacks

In the West Bank, the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, linked to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for a terrorist shooting attack at a checkpoint near a north Jerusalem neighborhood on Thursday evening that left one Israeli border policeman dead and a second wounded.

Around the same time, two Hamas terrorists entered a high school in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem. They stabbed several people before they were shot and killed. According to unconfirmed reports, the two terrorists had been released from an Israeli jail a week ago.

The last two deadly terror attacks in the West Bank have been carried out by gunmen linked to Abbas' Fatah faction. In December, two off-duty Israeli soldiers were killed by members of the P.A. Security services while hiking.

In November, a 29-year-old settler was shot and killed in the northern West Bank. The Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack, describing it as "an act of protest" against the U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace conference at Annapolis, Maryland.

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