Egyptian-Gaza Border Closed Under Threat of Attack

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The Egyptian-Gaza border was closed on Thursday because of security alerts, as U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed his concern that the Israeli-Hizballah war in Lebanon was overshadowing the Palestinian cause.

Extensive Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip began in late June after Corporal Gilad Shalit was abducted and two other soldiers killed in a cross-border attack from the same land that Israel evacuated last summer.

But since July 12, the Palestinian issue has been eclipsed by the Israeli-Hizballah war in Lebanon, although Israeli forces have not stopped their operations against Palestinian terror targets in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Military sources confirmed on Thursday that the Egyptian-Gaza border had been closed in coordination with European observers because of security concerns. Last week, the army searched the border area for weapons-smuggling tunnels.

The Israeli Air Force carried out two aerial attacks in the northern Gaza Strip overnight, targeting what the army said were weapons storage facilities -- one used by Islamic Jihad and the other by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction.

The army said its operations are intended to target terrorist organizations and their infrastructure, exclusively -- and that it was making every effort to avoid harming civilians who are not involved in terrorism.

On Wednesday, three Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes. Palestinians say that some 170 people have died in Israeli operations so far.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was concerned on Wednesday that the Israeli-Hizballah war could overshadow events in Gaza and "the urgent need to work towards a solution to the current crisis" in the Palestinian territories.

His spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that the "continued killing and injuring of hundreds of civilians, including children, in Gaza, by Israeli forces is utterly unjustifiable."

Israel says Palestinian terrorists deliberately take cover in civilian populations.

Annan also reiterated a call for Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets from Gaza at southern Israeli communities.

Nearly 200 Kassam rockets -- fired from the Gaza Strip -- have fallen in southern Israel since Hizballah's July 12 cross-border attack, the army said.

Hizballah, Syria influence in the West Bank

Israeli Air Force helicopters killed two senior Islamic Jihad operatives in targeted strikes in the West Bank on Wednesday.

Israeli military sources said that under pressure from Hizballah and the Islamic Jihad leadership in Syria, Mohammed Atik and Amjid al-Atil were trying to carry out a suicide bombing inside Israel.

The two, who were said to be expert bomb makers and recruiters of suicide bombers, were accused planning an attack that would have happened within a few days.

"The Islamic Jihad infrastructure in northern Samaria is one of the most dangerous terror infrastructures in the Judea and Samaria area, responsible for numerous terror attacks," military sources said. They were responsible for carrying out most of the deadly suicide attacks during 2005-2006.

Palestinians support Hizballah

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said this week that if Israeli forces occupied Lebanon, Palestinians would join the battle against Israel.

"There is no battle on the ground to occupy Lebanon. If this happens, God forbid, every Lebanese and every Palestinian will defend this land because this is an Arab land and all will defend it," Mashaal said in an interview published on the Muslim Brotherhood's website.

Israeli reserve Lt.-Col. Moshe Marzouk, of the International Policy Institute for Counter-terrorism said that it was not surprising that Mashaal made such a statement.

"We know Khaled Mashaal has visited Nasrallah in Beirut...and also Mashaal visited Iran," said Marzouk by telephone. (Mashaal has pledged his support to Iran if it is attacked by Israel.)

There are already Palestinian terrorists that are getting orders from Hizballah to carry out terror attacks, said Marzouk.

There are some 400,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants in a dozen refugee camps in Lebanon.

The largest Lebanese camp, Ein el-Hilweh, is home to about 40,000 refugees. There are several radical groups represented there including Hizballah and al Qaeda, said Marzouk. But, he added that they represent a small minority of the occupants. Most are Fatah supporters and they have not decided to get into the action, he said.

In any case, Israel has taken this into consideration, he said.

Nearly 100 percent of Palestinians are supporting Hizballah, the results of a Palestinian poll said. Some 97 percent of Palestinians say they support Hizballah, according to the Near East Consulting group based in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

When asked, some 56 percent of the more than 1,200 Palestinians polled in the West Bank and Gaza Strip said their support for Hizballah had increased since the fighting began.

Despite the fact that many Israeli Arabs and Israeli Arab towns have also been hit by Hizballah rocket attacks on northern Israel, Palestinians have taken to the streets to demonstrate their support for Hizballah and celebrate Israeli casualties.

Earlier this week in the West Bank city of Nablus, dozens of cars rolled through the streets in celebration -- waving Hizballah flags and pictures of Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah -- after hearing of a rocket attack that killed 12 Israeli soldiers on Sunday.

Some store owners passed out sweets and gunmen fired into the air in celebration, reports said. Some called on Nasrallah to launch missiles into Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

Palestinians behaved similarly following terror attacks against Israel and during the 1991 Gulf War when former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein launched at least 39 Scud rockets at Israel.

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