Israel: Hamas 'Pilgrims' carrying millions

Defense officials: Senior opertives stranded in Rafah; pilgrims burn Egypt temporary camps.

hajj gaza border 224 88 (photo credit: AP [archive])
hajj gaza border 224 88
(photo credit: AP [archive])
Israeli estimates that senior Hamas terrorist operatives, currently stranded on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, are carrying up to tens of millions of dollars in cash that they intend to smuggle into the Gaza Strip, security officials said Monday. Close to 3,000 Palestinians, including 2,000 who left Gaza two weeks ago to travel to Mecca for the hajj, have been holed up at a temporary camp near El-Arish in Sinai, waiting to return to their homes in the Gaza Strip. Israel is insisting that the Palestinians, among them at least a dozen senior Hamas operatives, including leader Khalil al-Haya, who traveled to Iran for military training, return to Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing and only after undergoing security checks by the IDF. The money, officials said, was obtained during the Hamas operatives' trip abroad and most probably donated to the Hamas by countries such as Iran. On Monday, the stranded Palestinians broke windows and set mattresses ablaze at the El-Arish camps as their relatives and supporters rallied in Gaza, demanding they be allowed to return home through Rafah, from which they exited Gaza earlier this month. The pilgrims shouted angry slogans against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his government. Hundreds of riot police surrounded the protesters as the fires were extinguished. A 67-year-old Palestinian woman died of a heart attack during the turmoil. Several elderly Palestinians fainted from smoke inhalation and were taken to El-Arish Hospital, said medical officials. "In the end it will be up to Egypt, whether it can succeed in standing up to the pressure and keeping the Rafah crossing closed," a senior defense official said, adding that Defense Minister Ehud Barak had transmitted a message to the Egyptian leadership according to which Israel would not approve opening of the Rafah crossing. Also Monday and despite earlier claims, the IDF confirmed that its soldiers had killed one Palestinian and wounded another after they opened fire at a group of pilgrims that crossed into Gaza through the Erez crossing late Sunday night. The IDF said that after 700 pilgrims returned to Gaza, a large group of Palestinians gathered on the Palestinian side of Erez and began moving towards IDF positions. The soldiers, the army said, called on the crowd to stop and fired several warning shots. Also on Monday, 100 Palestinians, who were not pilgrims but were stranded on the Egyptian side of Rafah crossed into Israel via Kerem Shalom. Meanwhile, thousands of Hamas supporters and relatives of the pilgrims gathered at the Gaza-Egypt border Monday in support of their kin. Youngsters threw stones at Egyptian soldiers on the other side of the border, while other protesters chanted, "Open the borders, we want our families back." AP contributed to this report.