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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Egypt has threatened to cut off its relations with Hamas unless the movement halts its rocket attacks on Israel, Palestinian Authority officials said Wednesday.
The officials said Egyptian Intelligence Chief Gen. Omar Suleiman sent a "tough" message to Hamas leaders, warning them against the continued rocket attacks. The message was delivered to PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas by Burhan Hammad, a senior Egyptian intelligence officer based in the Gaza Strip, the officials added.
They said that Suleiman also warned that Egypt would not side with the Palestinians if Israel launched a military operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
"We hope that the Hamas leaders will listen carefully to what the Egyptians are telling them," said one official here. "Hamas must return to the period of calm so as not to give Israel an excuse to invade the Gaza Strip."
Another senior PA official accused Hamas of trying to "extort" PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on the eve of his meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Cairo this coming weekend.
"The firing of the rockets and the resignation of Interior Minister Hani Kawassmeh [earlier this week] are part of an attempt by Hamas to extract concessions from President Abbas ahead of his meeting with Mashaal," he told The Jerusalem Post. "The meeting is supposed to focus on the possibility of including Hamas in the PLO. Mashaal wants to be deputy chairman of the PLO. At the meeting, Hamas will agree to a cease-fire with Israel on condition that Mashaal is appointed to a senior position in the PLO. This is extortion."
Hammad and a number of Egyptian security officials met in Gaza City on Tuesday night with representatives of several Palestinian factions, including Hamas, and urged them to stop the attacks on Israel.
Hammad said he made it clear to the factions that the rocket attacks would provide Israel with an excuse to launch military operations against the Palestinians and their
"They promised to consult with their groups and give us an answer by Thursday morning," he said. "We are working hard to avoid a deterioration, and we hope that all the groups will comply and agree to a cease-fire."
Hammad said the Palestinians had asked him to exert pressure on Israel to refrain from launching a military operation in the Gaza Strip.
"The Palestinians' position is that Israel initiated the last wave of violence by killing at least 10 Palestinians in the West Bank," he added. "They maintain that a new cease-fire should apply also to the West Bank."
Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-led government, said Israel's threats would not deter his government. "An Israeli response will not change the reality at all," he said. "Israel has already tried military solutions, but to no avail. A military operation will only lead to more violence and bloodshed in the region. We believe that Israel wants to attack the Gaza Strip to cover up for its failure in the last Lebanon war."
Fawzi Barhoum, another senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, denied allegations that his movement was trying to embarrass Mahmoud Abbas by firing rockets at Israel.
"The only language that Israel understands is the language of force and resistance," he said. "Resistance is a legitimate right of the Palestinians, even under international laws and conventions. Hamas is defending the Palestinians and Jerusalem. There is a consensus among all the Palestinian factions that Israel understands only the language of force."
Meanwhile, Palestinian human rights activists revealed on Wednesday that 150 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,000 injured in internal fighting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip between January and March 2007.
Hamas legislator Mushir Al-Masri attributed the ongoing anarchy and lawlessness to the "presence of mafia leaders in the Palestinian security forces." He did not name the alleged mafia leaders, but said they were responsible for the failure of the recent security plan approved by the PA government to restore law and order. "Some of the security commanders are mafia bosses who don't want to see an end to the anarchy," he said.