- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2006

JERUSALEM — With Israel’s blessing, Egypt has delivered a large arms shipment to forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, officials said yesterday — the latest Israeli attempt to boost the embattled leader in his bloody conflict with the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Though there has been a weeklong hiatus in armed clashes, Palestinians fear the heavily armed security forces of Hamas, which runs the Palestinian government, and Fatah could erupt in violence at any time.

Israel has been trying to reinforce Mr. Abbas’ standing among his people. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Mr. Abbas is a partner for negotiations — unlike Hamas, which rejects the existence of Israel and refuses to renounce violence.

Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, told Israel Radio the military assistance was rendered to reinforce the “forces of peace” against the “forces of darkness” threatening the region, a reference to Islamist extremists.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Mr. Abbas, issued a statement denying any arms deal. However, at midday yesterday, witnesses saw a truck belonging to the pro-Fatah National Security force carrying what appeared to be sealed boxes of weapons.

When the truck attempted to make a quick detour, one box fell onto the ground, scattering a pile of automatic guns on the road, the witnesses said. Security men in the truck quickly got out and collected the weapons.

Israel approved the transfer of 2,000 automatic rifles, 20,000 ammunition clips and 2 million bullets Wednesday, Israeli officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the shipment had not been officially confirmed by Israel, the Palestinians or Egypt.

Ahmed Youssef, a political adviser to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, said Egyptian officials had assured him no arms were sent. He accused Israel of spreading rumors about an arms shipment in “an attempt to increase tensions among the Palestinians.”

Yesterday, Mr. Haniyeh left Gaza to resume a trip to Persian Gulf states that had been cut short by the violence, which has since subsided. He was headed first to Saudi Arabia, then to Kuwait, Qatar and Jordan, where he and Mr. Abbas have been invited by King Abdullah II for talks.

Some 5,000 Hamas militiamen, some on foot, others in jeeps, lined the roads as Mr. Haniyeh traveled from his base in Gaza City to the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. His convoy came under fire at Rafah on Dec. 14 when he came back from his suspended trip, and the heavy security was a clear indication that concerns about his safety remained high.

Also yesterday, Mr. Olmert slightly softened his tone concerning peace overtures from Syria, saying he is open to “any murmur of peace” from Israel’s enemies.

“If our enemies genuinely want peace, they will find in us a fair partner, determined to establish relations of peace, friendship and reciprocity,” he said.

In Jerusalem, Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, who came to Israel after talks in Syria with President Bashar Assad, said the Syrian leader asked him to deliver a message: “Syria is very interested in peace negotiations with Israel.”

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