March 3, 2008, 7:24 PM (GMT+02:00)
Egypt's two-way ambulance service for Hamas
Sunday, March 2, Egypt re-opened Gaza’s Rafah crossing for the first time since Hamas blew up the border wall on Jan. 23 for ambulances to collect some 150 wounded Palestinians.
DEBKAfile’s military sources disclose that 27 ambulances also brought in 15-20 Hamas commando fighters, part of the of the 120-strong group rounded up in Sinai and detained on their return from advanced courses in Iran and Syria. They were permitted to cross back into Gaza with a quantity of weapons and ammunition.
Israel military sources are watching to see if the incoming ambulances are also carrying shoulder-borne anti-air missiles for shooting down Israeli helicopters and drones, which Hamas has been pressing Egypt to allow them to bring in. So far Cairo has resisted this demand but may have now relented. These sources describe the returning Hamas fighters as highly trained for guerilla warfare against conventional armies and therefore a valuable increment for Hamas’ war against Israel.
Our sources also confirm that the incoming group of trained fighters is not the first Cairo waved through the Rafah terminal. Last week, as fighting flared between Israel and Hamas, 17 were admitted to reinforce embattled Hamas. Israel officials imposed a blackout on this incident, reluctant to show the public the two-faced nature of Cairo’s policy of lenience for Hamas behind the mask of cooperation with Israel’s war on terror. The Olmert government also feared the exposure of the real state of affairs on the Gaza-Egyptian frontier notwithstanding its under-the-counter tacit acceptance of the buildup of Egyptian frontier troops to 1,500 in breach of the 1982 peace treaty.
Prime minister Olmert prefers to avoid any disclosures that might embarrass Cairo ahead of Condoleezza Rice’s visits to Israel, Ramallah and Egypt, starting Tuesday, March 4. According to our Washington sources, she will rap Palestinian knuckles for Hamas’ missile blitz, but at the same time tighten the screw on Israel to lift its siege of Gaza and reopen the border crossings. (Food and other convoys have never really stopped crossing into Gaza even under fire.)
The Mubarak government therefore is not afraid to reopen the supposedly closed Rafah terminal from time to time whenever Hamas demands essential items to fuel its ongoing war on Israel.