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Friday, June 6, 2008

Egypt sees Israel preparing major Gaza invasion

CAIRO — Egyptian sources said the intelligence community had concluded that Israel's military was preparing for a massive invasion of the Gaza Strip.

The sources said the invasion would attack several areas of Gaza simultaneously and seek to destroy or badly damage the Hamas regime.

"All of the signals that we have been receiving point to a massive and imminent invasion," an Egyptian source said.

[On Thursday, an Israeli was killed and three others were injured when an Iranian-origin mortar slammed into a factory in southern Israel near the Gaza Strip, Middle East Newsline reported. Hamas, in an unusual move, claimed responsibility.]

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The sources said the Israeli invasion would be the leading issue for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, scheduled to return from a brief visit to the United States. Olmert, who discussed the Hamas threat with President George Bush, was said to be ready to approve military plans for a massive operation in the Gaza Strip.

For his part, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak again warned of a major invasion of the Gaza Strip. Barak did not elaborate.

"The military operation is closer than ever, and it will precede the cease-fire," Barak said. "We are nearing the day of reckoning in the Gaza Strip, in which we will decide whether to go in the direction of an agreement of calm or a wide-scale military operation."

Over the last three months, Egypt sought to mediate a ceasefire or so-called lull in violence between Israel and Hamas. The sources said the effort failed amid continued Hamas missile strikes and Israeli retaliation.

On June 4, Al Qaida defended Hamas and called for an end to Israel's economic blockade of the Gaza Strip. Al Qaida No. 2 Ayman Zawahiri termed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a traitor for refusing to allow entry to Palestinians.

"The brother from Gaza is refused entry [by Egypt], while an Israeli tourist is allowed to enter without a visa," Zawahiri said.

Hamas has decided to pressure Israel by increasing missile strikes from the northern Gaza Strip. The sources said Hamas was also ordering supporters to provoke clashes along the borders of Egypt and Israel.

"We have stressed that the lull must guarantee a lifting of the siege and the reopening of all crossings, especially the Rafah border crossing," Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan said.

Still, Egyptian sources said Israel has not formally rejected a plan for a lull or ceasefire with Hamas. They said Hamas missile strikes were being directed by Iran, who has provided the lion's share of foreign funding to the Islamic regime.

"In the end, Olmert will make his decision based on what he heard from Bush," an Egyptian diplomat said. "If there is an Israeli invasion, it is clear that Bush gave the green light."

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