Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hamas plans massive Palestinian demo for Sept 1 to break through Gaza’s shuttered crossing to Egypt

The Hamas Executive Force has circulated leaflets and posted loudspeakers on vehicles and minarets in the towns and villages of the Gaza Strip calling on household heads to bring their families out en masse Saturday in protest against the hardships caused by Egypt’s closure of the Rafah crossing. Tuesday night, Egypt sent large police reinforcements to the crossing from Cairo and Suez Canal towns with crowd dispersal gear. Egyptian authorities had learned that Hamas planned to use spearhead units as battering rams to break through the blocked gate and permit more than 100,000 protesters to stream across and link up with the Palestinian communities of northern Sinai. Hamas would then assert control of both sides of the Rafah border town.

Egypt has kept the facility closed since Hamas’ takeover of Gaza put the Palestinian Authority guards and international monitors to flight. In two months, conditions in the territory have become so desperate that Hamas leaders believe they have nothing to lose by extreme measures to break the siege – even at the risk of heavy casualties from Egyptian fire. To avoid a bloodbath Saturday, Cairo may have to resume contacts with Hamas leaders. Those contacts would lead to the end of at least one boycott against them.

For some weeks, Gaza's Palestinian leaders have targeted the crossings into Israel with terrorist tactics and fire. In between attacks, Israeli authorities have allowed essential supplies through. They are now are waiting to see how Cairo resolves the dilemma: Smashing the Hamas demonstration by force will be costly in lives, whereas in renewed dialogue, Hamas would exact concessions to ease their isolated state.

The second course would have one plus side for Israel: It would permit Cairo to pick up its mediation effort on behalf of the Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit, who has been held in Gaza for more than 14 months. Since that effort was dropped, there has been no progress for his release.


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