Israel concerned over Rafah crisis

Officials say terrorists could've brought more weapons, money and new terror skills.

Rafah broken wall 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Rafah broken wall 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Security officials expressed concern on Wednesday with Egypt's decision to open the Rafah crossing and allow Palestinians to cross into Sinai and return without inspections. The officials said the crossing's opening enabled dozens of terrorists to leave the Gaza Strip and return with weapons, money and new terror skills. Earlier this month and despite Israeli objections, Egypt allowed thousands of Palestinians, who had traveled to Mecca for the annual haj pilgrimage, to return to Gaza via the Rafah crossing. At the time, defense officials said that terrorists returning to Gaza were carrying $100 million and that some of them had traveled to Iran and Lebanon for military training. "It is likely that there is a significant number of terrorists who left Gaza today," a defense official said. "They are probably returning now with money and weaponry." While Israel has pledged to continue limited aid shipments into Gaza due to concerns of a possible humanitarian crisis, defense officials said Wednesday that with the opening of the Egyptian border, there may no longer be a need for Israeli shipments. The officials said the decision to open the crossing could eventually pave the way for Israel to completely cut off ties with the Gaza Strip and transfer responsibility to Egypt. "By opening up the border and allowing the Palestinians to cross in, Egypt proved that it can take care of the population there just as well as we can," an official said. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that the "Egyptians are deployed along the border between Gaza and Egypt," and "it is their responsibility to ensure that the border operates properly, in accordance with the signed agreements." The statement said Israel expected "the Egyptians to solve the problem." Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who met in Paris on Wednesday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other French leaders, said he expected the Egyptians to "honor their obligations and close the breach in the border." Barak said he had no illusions about the situation in the South, and that Israel would need to continue its actions to curb Kassam rocket fire from Gaza - including military action, economic sanctions and curtailing the supply of fuel and electricity. "We don't want a humanitarian crisis, but the Hamas government, which is responsible for the launching of rockets into Israel, had to be weakened by all means," Barak said during his visit to Paris. Diplomatic officials said that beyond the Foreign Ministry's statement, Israel did not pass on to the Egyptians any diplomatic message relating to Wednesday's events. The officials echoed the defense officials' concerns that the breach in the border would enable the flow of weapons and terrorists into the Gaza Strip. But, they pointed out, it was a two-way street, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak now faced the danger of terrorists hiding out and using Sinai as a terror base. Officials in Jerusalem said Mubarak's decision not to stop the flow of Gazans into Egypt should not have come as a surprise, considering the image problem he would have faced in the Arab world had his troops fired on the masses. On Tuesday, Egyptian troops clashed violently with Palestinians at the border, and Egypt came under intense pressure from the Arab world to take steps to alleviate the plight of Gaza's residents.