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December 15, 2006
Bagman, Terror Man, Beggar Man, Chief

Ismail Haniyeh got stopped at the Gaza border yesterday for attempting to smuggle as much as $35 million in cash into the sanctions-hit territories. The border stop pushed tensions to the breaking point, and Hamas lashed out at both Fatah and the Egyptians on both sides of the line:

In a bizarre standoff that lasted more than seven hours on Thursday, Israel barred the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya, from returning home to the Gaza Strip, saying he was carrying tens of millions of dollars in cash that could be used for terrorist attacks.

Mr. Haniya was finally allowed to cross from Egypt into the southern Gaza Strip late Thursday night, but only after leaving the money with Hamas officials who stayed behind in Egypt.

During his lengthy wait, dozens of angry gunmen from his Hamas movement shot up the Rafah border terminal, clashing first with Palestinian security forces on one side of the border and later with Egyptian security officials on the other side. At least 15 Palestinians were hurt, and most were believed to be from Hamas.

After Mr. Haniya reached the Gaza side, another round of shooting broke out and one of his sons was wounded and one of his bodyguards killed.

Hamas has little choice but to attempt this end run around the sanctions imposed by Western nations. The banking systems will not do business with Hamas for fear of getting tainted by the association with terrorists. Instead, Hamas has become a cash business, and not a successful one at that. While they have had some limited successes with their smuggling, the $150 million a month tab cannot possibly be serviced by muling cash across the border, not even using one of the Palestinian Authority's biggest asses.

Clearly, Haniyeh has created more problems than he solves, a fact that should become apparent even to the most dense Palestinian. He just went on a hat-in-hand tour of the region and got $250 million in pledges -- not even enough for two months of salary for PA employees. Of that $250 million, all he had with him was $35 million, and he couldn't even smuggle that effectively.

A civil war may break out in Gaza and the West Bank soon, thanks to the depraved assassination of three children of a Fatah leader earlier this week. The series of reprisals since then have brought all factions into the streets. However, if Haniyeh cannot get cash inside Gaza where Hamas has formed its largest political base, he will have more to fear from his own people than from Mahmoud Abbas.

UPDATE: Hamas has wrested control of the Rafah crossing from Fatah-led PA security forces:

Hamas gunmen seized control of the Gaza Strip's border crossing with Egypt on Thursday in a ferocious gunbattle with Fatah-allied border guards after Israel blocked the Hamas prime minister from crossing with tens of millions of dollars in aid. ...

Thursday's gunbattle at the border erupted after Hamas militants, angry that Israel was preventing Haniyeh from returning, stormed the Rafah terminal, which is controlled by the pro-Fatah Presidential Guard under the watch of European monitors.

The Presidential Guard opened fire, setting off a gunfight. Terrified travelers ran for cover, some carrying their luggage. Crying women and children hid behind walls and taxis, while the European monitors who police the crossing fled. Two Hamas militants were among those wounded.

The Hamas militants, chanting "God is Great, let's liberate this place" took over the arrival hall, and border guards escorted the European monitors to safety. Two loud explosions rocked the area, and security officials said militants had blown a hole in the border fence about a half mile from the terminal.

This will not help Hamas in lifting the sanctions against it as a terrorist group, as even the EU recognizes that it has to react to an attack on a position it monitors. Hamas and Haniyeh have spent a lot of time and effort in trying to convince European nations to end the economic sanctions and restore aid to the PA, an effort which some claimed had shown signs of success. Now that will set Hamas back to square one, showing them as diplomatic incompetents all over again.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 15, 2006 5:10 AM

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