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Israel sees a new Hamas threat

An intelligence officer says the group has been smuggling weapons into Gaza for suicide attacks. Leaders accuse Egypt of complicity. By Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer August 28, 2007 JERUSALEM -- Hamas has smuggled 40 tons of weapons into the Gaza Strip this summer, apparently intent on resuming suicide bombings in Israel, according to an Israeli intelligence assessment of the militant Islamic group. (La Times)
A senior officer of Shin Bet, the domestic security agency, told the Cabinet in private testimony Sunday that Hamas' exiled leadership in Syria was plotting attacks to sabotage peace talks between Israel and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. Israeli officials confirmed that the unnamed officer had made the statements after they were published Monday in the newspaper Haaretz on the eve of a new round of talks between the Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders.

Israeli media said the intelligence officer gave no evidence to support his testimony. The officer said Hamas had brought as many weapons into Gaza since it seized full control of the territory in mid-June as it had in the preceding 22 months. He said the Islamist group was increasingly frustrated by Gaza's international isolation. "The chances of suicide attacks by Hamas are growing, both in Gaza and the West Bank and outside the country," the officer was quoted as saying. A Hamas official in Gaza, Ahmed Yousef, denied that the group intended to renew suicide bombings. Hamas' last such attack in Israel was in 2004. But Israeli leaders took the reported weapons buildup as a credible threat.

They accused Egypt, which has an anti-smuggling agreement with Israel and publicly supports the peace talks, of allowing Hamas to move arms, ammunition and explosives from Egypt into Gaza. "Egypt is capable of acting decisively against Hamas but hasn't done so," Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said on Army Radio. "Their intelligence is as good as ours. "I think Egypt wants Hamas to be strong," he said. "Maybe not too strong, but the Egyptians don't have a full grip on the spigot." There was no immediate comment from Egypt. Israel blames Hamas for the deaths of more than 250 people in suicide attacks between 1994 and 2004. Israeli leaders had hoped to pacify Gaza, the militant group's stronghold, by withdrawing troops and Jewish settlers from the territory two years ago.

But Hamas continued to launch rockets from Gaza into Israel after winning Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006. After a year of sporadic factional fighting, Hamas in mid-June ousted the security forces of Fatah, the rival secular movement led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas then fired the Hamas-led government. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has since prodded Israel to engage Abbas, whose real authority is limited to the West Bank, in talks to shape the agenda of a Middle East peace conference that President Bush has called for this fall. It is the most serious effort to revive full-scale peace negotiations that were broken off in 2001. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are to meet in Jerusalem today.

The two sides have conflicting agendas. Abbas has said he wants to settle core issues, such as final borders, that would lead to an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Israeli leaders want to reach an "agreement of principles" that would guide future talks on the details of a settlement.

Olmert is constrained by low approval ratings at home and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's opposition to an early peace agreement. Barak, whose Labor Party is part of Olmert's ruling coalition, told a parliamentary committee Monday that Israel needed 2 1/2 years to develop a missile defense system to protect against rocket fire before it could relinquish the West Bank to Palestinian control. Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas, told CNN in an interview broadcast Monday that the

U.S.-sponsored conference was doomed to fail because it would seek to isolate Hamas and serve only Israel's interests. Speaking in Damascus, the Syrian capital, he said the international community must deal with "the reality of the Palestinian arena," including Hamas' control of Gaza, to move the Middle East closer to "genuine peace." This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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