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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Israel: Haniyeh can enter Gaza, but without millions in cash

Last update - 21:34 14/12/2006
Israel: Haniyeh can enter Gaza, but without millions in cash
By Amos Harel and Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondents, and Agencies

Israel agreed Thursday evening to allow Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to cross from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, but without the $35 million in cash he had brought from a tour of Muslim states.
Meanwhile, gunbattles raged at the border Thursday night, as Hamas gunmen, enraged by the Israel-imposed ban on Haniyeh, seized control of the terminal and exchanged fire with guards of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the rival Fatah movement and Egyptian guards. The gunbattles left 18 people wounded.
Egyptian officials said troops were firing in the air to  prevent Palestinians from crossing from Gaza.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz had earlier instructed the Israel Defense Forces to stop Palestinians entering Gaza via the Rafah border crossing, in order to prevent Haniyeh from crossing with the money.
"We are awaiting the return of the Europeans [monitors] so that we can cross tonight," Haniyeh told a Hamas radio station. "Soon I will be with you."
Israel Radio reported that the money would be left in Egypt, and on Friday be transferred to the bank account of the Arab League in Cairo.
Israeli security sources said that the decision to close the border was made to stop the cash transfer, not to prevent Haniyeh's return.
The head of Egypt's intelligence service, Omar Suleiman, had contacted Israeli officials in order to find a solution that would allow Haniyeh to return to the Strip.
Gunbattles at battles
Hamas militants burst into the Rafah border terminal Thursday evening, sparking a gunbattle with guards before taking control of the crossing.
Travelers at the terminal dove for cover and a top Hamas official furiously tried to persuade the militants to disperse.
Following the gunbattle, European monitors said the border would not be reopened Thursday, though it appeared that Haniyeh might still be able to cross from Egypt.
Speaking on the radio, Haniyeh called on the gunmen to leave the area so the monitors could return.
In the chaos of the first attack, two loud explosions rocked the border area, and security officials said militants had blown a hole in the border fence about one kilometer from the terminal.
Hours later, gunfire erupted again at the border. Witnesses said Hamas gunmen were firing at the Egyptian side of the border, drawing return fire from the Egyptians and presidential guards from the rival Fatah movement.
During the battle, masked gunmen in three cars and a bulldozer stormed the terminal, witnesses said.
The gunmen went on a rampage inside the building, destroying computers and furniture insid and plunging the area into darkness, the witnesses said.
Palestinian official Hani Jabour, a coordinator at the Rafah crossing, said Israeli authorities closed the border after Haniyeh told Egyptian authorities he was carrying the money.
Haniyeh's premature return to Gaza midway through his first tour abroad since becoming prime minister came in the wake of rising tensions between Hamas and Fatah.
The economic boycott on the Palestinian Authority, imposed by the international community on Hamas since its victory in the parliamentary elections last January, has forced the group to raise funds overseas in order to cover its ongoing expenditure.
Other senior Hamas officials have in recent months taken into Gaza millions of dollars raised overseas for this purpose.
On Wednesday, Haniyeh told a press conference in Khartum that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has pledged $10 million to the Palestinian government and the Palestinian people.
In addition, Iran made a pledge to Haniyeh earlier this week of $250 million for the Hamas government.
Israel concerned about Hamas ties with Iran
The security establishment has voiced its concern over the emergence of closer ties between Hamas and Iran, as Haniyeh's visit to Tehran this week is viewed by Israel as a possible step by them towards establish a strategic pact.
Israel considers the closer ties between Hamas and Iran as a move of defiance against the international community resulting in part from the group's success in overcoming the international economic boycott.

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