Jerusalem – The Middle East NewsLine confirms that Israel has been preparing for a major Hamas strike to avenge the death of scores of senior operatives.
Officials said Hamas’ military has been planning an attack from either the Gaza Strip or West Bank. They said the operation could include a suicide bombing in a major Israeli city as well as the abduction of Israeli soldiers or civilians.
“Hamas wants to show that it remains capable of hurting Israel,” an official said. “With the infiltration of Sinai, Hamas has a range of attack options.”
Officials said Hamas has sustained significant losses this month. They said several commanders were among the more than 50 Hamas and Islamic Jihad casualties in Israeli air and ground strikes over the last two weeks.
Hamas has sent hundreds of operatives to the Sinai Peninsula to prepare for attacks in southern Israel, including the cities of Eilat and Beersheba. Officials said former Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar has been urging Hamas to commandeer an Israeli school or hospital.
“There is a danger of terrorists trying to enter Israel [from Sinai] along with infiltrators from Africa,” Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said.
Israeli officials said Hamas commanders Ahmed Jabari and Mohammed Deif were believed to be planning the assault. They said Jabari and Deif were working with Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees to conduct one or several attacks.
So far, at least 20 Hamas and Jihad insurgents were captured in Sinai. Officials said the Palestinians were found with explosives and radio interception equipment to monitor Egyptian security forces.
Israel’s military has been focusing operations on the southern Gaza Strip. On late Sunday, the Israel Air Force struck Hamas armored vehicles, and four fighters were injured.
Israel Kills Leading Hamas Commander
Israel has killed a key commander in the Hamas military.
Palestinian sources said Hamas military commander Mohammed Harb was killed in an Israeli missile strike on Jan. 25. The sources said Mr. Harb was a regional commander of Hamas’ new military and responsible for Rafah, located along the border with Egypt.
Mr. Harb was said to have been driving with his aides when an Israeli air-to-ground missile struck the vehicle. Mr. Harb and a deputy were killed.
The sources said Mr. Harb was responsible for missile and mortar strikes from the southern Gaza Strip into Israel. They said Mr. Harb was also identified as a key Hamas liaison with smugglers who operate an estimated 200 tunnels that link the Gaza Strip to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Israel has acknowledged the death of Mr. Harb. An Israeli military source said Mr. Harb planned Hamas attacks inside Israel, including a raid on an Israeli military base in which a soldier was captured on June 2006. The soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, remains in captivity.
Mr. Harb was said to have commanded Hamas forces in the operation to destroy the Sinai-Gaza border wall on Jan. 23. The Hamas commander also brought bulldozers to widen breaches in the wall to enable more than 700,000 Gazans to enter Sinai. Egypt has failed to close the border.
‘Hamas Brought Unprecedented Weapons Into The Gaza Strip’
An official assessment presented to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak showed that significant new and dangerous weaponry has been brought into the Gaza Strip over the past several days.
“Over the past 24 hours, Hamas broke through 17 different places in the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Egypt,” said an Israeli security official, adding, “The Egyptian regime will have to toughen its position before the situation becomes bad for them, too.”
The official also claimed that the security establishment’s working assumption is that Hamas is using the holes in the fence in order to smuggle arms into Gaza that it could not bring there before.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (AKA Abu Mazen) that they will put pressure on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in order to convince him to close the Rafah crossing. Mr. Olmert refused Mr. Abu Mazen’s request to lighten the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, saying that the pressure on the Gaza Strip would continue until the rocket fire on the western Negev communities is stopped. During the meeting, which took place at noon on Sunday in Jerusalem, Mr. Abu Mazen told Mr. Olmert that when he meets with Mr. Mubarak in Cairo tomorrow, he will try to convince him to resume enforcing order at the Rafah crossing.
Despite the recent developments, the Israeli government notified the Israel High Court of Justice that it had increased the amount of industrial fuel that Israel is supplying to the power plant in the Gaza Strip to 2.2 million liters per week. According to the state, the amount preserves a “humanitarian security space.” Before that, the quantity of industrial fuel was approximately 1.75 million liters per week.
However, the new amount corresponds to the demands of human-rights organizations. They demand that 3.5 million liters of fuel be supplied per week, an amount that the security establishment vehemently rejects.
Gazans Pay Egyptians with Monopoly Money
The commercial relations that developed last week between Egypt and the Gaza Strip led to an economic boom among the Egyptian merchants. It is believed that the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip spent $300 million on the Egyptian side. Now, it seems that the economic deal is far from perfect. Both sides, the Palestinian consumers and the Egyptian suppliers, searched for ways to deceive each other for their own personal gain.
Thus, for example, many of the Gazans took advantage of the fact that the Egyptian merchants agreed to accept payment in shekels without being familiar with Israeli currency. The Gazans paid with fake bills, which were sold in Gaza as part of a children’s game – the Gazan version of Monopoly. “During disengagement, one-hundred and two-hundred-shekel bills were very popular in Gaza and were sold to children,” said Marwan, a resident of Gaza. “I saw with my own eyes how people were taking advantage of the high pressure and paying Egyptian merchants with this money. By the third day, the Egyptians had already learned to check the bills.”
According to Marwan, other people paid with counterfeit bills.
It turns out that the Egyptian merchants were also far from being innocent. Some of them sold merchandise to the Gazans that was past its sell-by date. “The people bought everything because there is a shortage in Gaza,” said Issa, a resident of Gaza. “Cement is not a problem anyway, since it’s not so bad if it’s old. There is no reason why this cement shouldn’t last. But food that’s gone past its sell-by date is more problematic.”
David Bedein can be reached at Media@actcom.co.il. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com
©The Bulletin 2008