Egyptian troops hunt Hamas, Islamic Jihad rocket gangs loose in Sinai. Palestinians stall on truce talks
A wide-reaching Egyptian military hunt is on across northern and central Sinai for intruding Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket squads and the launching sites they have buried beneath the desert surface, according to DEBKAfile’s exclusive military and counterterrorism sources.
In the last week of warfare with Israel, up until the declaration of the Aug. 26 ceasefire, Hamas and Jihad secretly moved rocket teams across the border into Egyptian Sinai. They plan to use them as a second front for resuming rocket fire on Israel, or provide themselves with a lever in case no deal comes out of the Cairo negotiations later this month for a durable ceasefire and the rehabilitation of the shattered Gaza Strip.
Egyptian and Israeli intelligence surmised at first that only a handful of rocket teams had got through to Sinai and intended to pick them off quickly by air strikes. But in the course of the pursuit, it turned out that the two Palestinian terrorist groups had put down a substantial and elaborate network of sunken rocket pads across northern Sinai and along the Egyptian-Israeli border.
It is linked to a remote activation system located in Bedouin villages and encampments, which also serve as the teams’ contact points. Hamas and Salafi groups from Gaza pay the tribesmen, who also work with Al Qaeda’s Ansar al-Maqdis, to provide them with food and water. Hamas has long maintained strong operational ties with al-Maqdis. For an independent supply of ordinance, Hamas set up rocket manufacturing workshops in the northern Sinai towns of Rafah and Sheikh Zweid.
Two days after the ceasefire went into effect, the semiofficial Egyptian news agency Mena quoted an Egyptian military source as disclosing that, on Aug. 21, “Thirty-one huts and houses used as launching pads and workshops for rockets were destroyed in the crackdown.”
Then, on Monday, Sept. 1, Gen. Will Safti, head of the Palestinian desk at Egypt’s intelligence service, arrived in Ramallah. He came for an attempt to bring the quarrelling Hamas and Mahmud Abbas’ Fatah factions together for a coherent Palestinian line at the forthcoming talks in Cairo for a permanent ceasefire, political and economic solutions for rebuilding the Gaza Strip, and for the establishment of stable Palestinian Authority rule over the territory. Those talks were scheduled to take place after the ceasefire had held for one month.
But the acrimony between Fatah and Hamas was described as so relentless, that the Egyptian officer gave up and returned to Cairo, without hope of bridging the differences between them or setting a date for the comprehensive Gaza talks to begin.
It is now feared in Cairo that Hamas will take matters in its own hands and activate the covert rocket gangs in Sinai for a resumed barrage against Israel – only this time it will be launched from Egyptian soil. Hamas’ Gaza command will then be able to deny responsibility and Israel’s hands will be tied for hitting back.
In Gaza City, meanwhile, Hamas announced Monday that it was doubling the budget earmarked for its military wing, Ezz e-Din al-Qassam. There was no word about where the Palestinian fundamentalists had found the tens of millions of dollars they had lavished on their fighting arm.