In response to continued violence between the Hamas and Fatah factions in the Palestinian Authority, Israel approved on Wednesday night the transfer of 2,000 automatic rifles, 20,000 ammunition clips and 2 million bullets, to the Fatah security forces in the Gaza Strip. The decision, made following Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's meeting last Saturday with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, marked the first time Israel agreed to allow arms into Gaza in some six months. With the approval of the United States, the weapons were transferred from Egypt via the Kerem Shalom crossing, after which a police escort guarded the guns as they were moved to the Karni crossing, where representatives of Abbas collected them.
The fragility game (editorial)
Likud MK Yuval Steinitz called the move a "bad mistake."
"A lot of IDF soldiers and Israeli civilians will be killed with these weapons," Steinitz told Army Radio. "We haven't yet seen that Abbas is determined to contain terrorism, and there's a greater chance that these weapons will be used against [our] soldiers, and we'll have to combat terrorism."
National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer rejected Steinitz's comments and insisted that the arms would be put to good use by Abbas.
"The weapons delivery is intended to give Abbas the ability to cope with those organizations which are trying to ruin everything. If it helps Abbas become stronger, I'm for it," said Ben-Eliezer in an interview with Army Radio.
The Defense Ministry's Political-Security Bureau, Amos Gilad, told Israel Radio that the arms were "destined to strengthen the forces of peace against the black forces, which threaten the future of the Middle East."
Gilad emphasized that the delivery was coming from the Arab world and that Israel was not dealing with it directly.
Late Thursday afternoon, an Abbas spokesman denied that Egypt had given Fatah any weapons.
Israel's decision to allow the arms shipment to Fatah was a sign that the government was starting to think in more complex terms, Lt.-Gen. (res.) Yochanan Tzoref told Israel Radio.
Tzoref explained that while Fatah might be at a disadvantage as far as its arsenal in its struggle with Hamas, the real challenge facing the organization was that it had lost the faith of the Palestinian public.
"Fatah has to undergo an internal process that will strengthen it, and allow it to compete with Hamas in the public's eyes," Tzoref said.
Hamas had the [Palestinian] public's support almost "instinctively," Tzoref continued, whereas the Fatah "old guard" was holding up necessary reforms.
Meanwhile, a source in Abbas's Presidential Guards denied on Thursday that Fatah had received weapons and ammunition from Egypt. The unnamed source told Israel Radio that the Egyptian shipment had contained an X-ray machine, televisions, and computers to be used at the Gaza border crossings.
Saeb Erekat, a spokesman for Abbas, declined comment, as did Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin and the Defense Ministry.