Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have expressed their desire to travel to Lebanon to join Hizbullah in the current confrontation with Israel, Palestinian Authority security officials here said over the weekend.
"Many young men, including members of the Palestinian security forces, want to join the fight against Israel in Lebanon," one official told The Jerusalem Post, "We have thus far received hundreds of requests from people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who have expressed their desire to join the Lebanese resistance forces."
Another official said some veteran PLO security officers who were based in Beirut in the 1970s and 80s had also asked for permission to travel to Lebanon to help Hizbullah. "These officers, who have tremendous experience in fighting Israel on Lebanese soil, believe that Hizbullah could benefit from their expertise," the official explained.
He added, however, that the PA leadership had no intention at this stage of dispatching security experts and recruits to Lebanon. "The Palestinian Authority has enough problems here," the official pointed out. "We need these men in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where we are also under attack from Israel."
Fearing that Israel would target PA and Hamas officials living in Lebanon, the PA leadership on Saturday urged these officials to head to Syria. The PA ambassador to Lebanon, Abbas Zaki, said he had issued instructions to provide free transportation to all those carrying Palestinian passports to help them leave Lebanon.
"I know of at least 20 men who are prepared to go to Lebanon tomorrow morning to fight against Israel," said Zuheir Nasser, a PA security officer in Nablus. "The problem is that we don't have enough money to cover the expenses of travel. Also, as long as Israel controls the border crossings with Jordan, it's almost impossible for West Bankers to leave."
Muhammad Masri, a PA policeman from a village outside Ramallah, said that the majority of the Palestinians "sympathize" with Hizbullah. "Hizbullah has taught Israel a good lesson and as Arabs and Muslims we are very proud of them," he said. "They are the only ones who care about the Palestinians while the rest of the Arab leaders are sitting on the side and watching as Israel perpetrates daily massacres against the Palestinians."
Many Palestinians had expressed disappointment with the failure of the Arab governments to exert pressure on Israel to halt its military operations in the Gaza Strip in response to the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Most of the criticism has been directed against the governments of Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Meanwhile, PA President Mahmoud Abbas is under growing pressure from the families of Palestinians held in Israeli jails to try to convince Israel to agree to a prisoner swap with Shalit's Hamas kidnappers. Representatives of the families met with Abbas in his office here on Saturday and urged him to use his influence with Israel and the US to secure the release of the prisoners.
Abbas told the families that the issue of the prisoners was on the top of his list of priorities and that Israel had in the past expressed its willingness to release prisoners. He claimed that the abduction of Shalit had "complicated matters" because Israel was now refusing to release prisoners under threat.
Abbas is also facing increased calls to order the PA security forces to join the fight against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Earlier this month, Abbas blocked attempts by the Hamas government to involve the various branches of the security forces in attacks against Israel.
A poll conducted by the independent Maan News Agency over the weekend showed that 72 percent of the Palestinians wanted to see their security forces take an active part in the fight against Israel. The poll covered over 7,000 Palestinians.
In a separate development, Egypt has threatened to seal its border with the Gaza Strip after Palestinian gunmen destroyed part of the fence near Rafah, allowing thousands of stranded travelers to cross into the Gaza Strip.
Scores of gunmen belonging to Fatah and Hamas on Friday detonated explosive charges near the concrete slabs at the Rafah border crossing, which has been closed since the kidnapping of Shalit.
Thousands of Palestinians who have been waiting on the Egyptian side of the border managed to enter the Gaza Strip through a large hole in the border fence. Attempts by Egyptian and PA policemen to prevent the travelers from crossing the border failed.
Sources in Abbas's office said the Egyptians, who were "furious" because of the destruction of the wall, have threatened to prevent Palestinians from entering Egypt.
Following the incident, the Egyptian authorities expelled top Hamas official Muhammad Nazzal, who was visiting Cairo.