TEL AVIV Ñ The Palestinian Authority and a range of insurgency
groups are said to cooperate in the smuggling of weapons and explosives from
Israeli military sources said the weekend operation to search and
destroy at least 13 tunnels that connect the southern town of Rafah with the
neighboring Egyptian-controlled Sinai Peninsula has pointed to cooperation
by a range of Palestinian elements. The sources said the elements range from
the ruling Fatah Party to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Palestinian groups began smuggling weapons from Egypt before the advent
of the PA in 1994, Middle East Newsline reported.
But over the last three years the tunnels have
represented a major source of supplies for the production of missiles,
mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and high-grade explosives.
The insurgency groups, in cooperation with PA officials, were said to
share the expense of constructing and maintaining the tunnels as well as the
smuggling of weapons and explosives from Egypt. The military sources said
the PA and insurgency groups maintain an arrangement for the division of
material that comes from
the Egyptian-side of Rafah.
On Tuesday, an Israeli military force returned to Rafah in a
search-and-destroy operation for the tunnels. The combined force, which
included 40 tanks and armored personnel carrier, was also composed of
infantry and engineering units and was expected to operate for several days.
The tunnels were dug from the homes of residents of the Palestinian
refugee camp in Rafah to conceal their presence from the Israelis, the
sources said. They said PA security officials have been paid a percentage of
the profits and don't interfere in the smuggling.
Israel's military has found three of 13 tunnels believed to be in
operation amid heavy battles with Palestinian insurgents. Ten Palestinians
were killed in two days of fighting and they included operatives from
Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
One of the casualties was identified as the commander of the
Fatah-dominated Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Naadar Abu Taha, age 23. Other
Palestinians were injured when they tried to prepare bombs meant to be
hurled against Israeli forces.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the
Near East has assessed that 114 homes and refugee shelters were demolished
during the Israeli operation. The agency said 1,240 people have become