Second front opened to undermine the Mubarak regime.
Gunmen of Hamas’s armed wing, Ezz e-Din al Qassam, crossed from Gaza into northern Sinai Sunday, Jan. 30 to attack Egyptian forces and push them back. They acted on orders from Hamas’ parent organization, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, confirmed by its bosses in Damascus, to open a second, Palestinian front against the Mubarak regime. The Muslim Brotherhood is therefore more active in the uprising than it would appear.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Hamas gunmen went straight into battle with Egyptian Interior Ministry special forces (CFF) in the southern Egyptian-controlled section of the border town of Rafah and the Sinai port of El Arish. Saturday, Bedouin tribesmen and local Palestinians used the mayhem in Cairo to clash with Egyptian forces at both northern Sinai key points and ransack their gun stores.
Sunday, Hamas terrorists aim to follow this up by pushing Egyptian forces out of the northern and central regions of the peninsula and so bring Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip under Palestinian control. Hamas would then be able to break out of the Egyptian blockade of the enclave and restore its smuggling routes in full. Officials in Gaza City confirmed Sunday that Hamas’s most notorious smuggling experts, including Muhammad Shaar, had broken out of the El Arish jail Saturday and were heading for Gaza City.
Our military sources further report that the Multinational Force & Observers (MFO), most of whose members are Americans and Canadians, are on maximum alert at their northern Sinai base, while they wait for US military transports to evacuate them to US bases in Europe.
This force was deployed in Sinai in 1981 for peacekeeping responsibilities and the supervision of the security provisions of the 1979 Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel under which the peninsula was demilitarized except for Egyptian police. Ending the MFO’s mission in Sinai after thirty years knocks down a key pillar propping up the treaty peace between Egypt and Israel.
Early Sunday, the Egyptian army quietly began transferring armored reinforcements including tanks through the tunnels under the Suez from Egypt proper eastward to northern Sinai in effort to drive the Hamas forces back. The Egyptian troop presence in Sinai, which violates the terms of the peace treaty, has not been mentioned by either of the peace partners. Our Jerusalem sources report the Netanyahu government may have tacitly approved it.
Hamas’ Gaza leaders do not seem to fear Israel will resort to military or even air action to interfere with their incursion of Sinai, although it brings their armed units within easy reach of the long Egyptian border with Israel.
In central Cairo, thousands of protesters gathered Sunday morning, some having camped there overnight in defiance of the curfew. Their chants were different in two important senses from the slogans dominating the first five days of their protest. Now they are calling for both President Hosni Mubarak and his newly-appointed Vice President Gen. Omar Suleiman to resign, branding them “American agents.” Secondly, Islamic elements are more conspicuous among the crowd collecting in central Cairo Sunday.
Thousands of political prisoners, Islamic extremists and criminals are on the loose having reportedly escaped jails in the Cairo area.
The United States is preparing to evacuate citizens. The Embassy in Cairo advised all Americans to consider leaving the country as soon as possible. Ankara is sending planes to carry Turkish citizens out of the country. Saturday, the Israeli airline El Al sent a special flight to Cairo for families of embassy staff. The diplomats remain in place.
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu updated the weekly cabinet session on his conversations overnight with President Barak Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Egyptian crisis.