Various Palestinian security organizations in the Gaza Strip have redoubled efforts to get weapons and ammunition before the IDF withdraws from the Strip and the settlements are evacuated. The units buy arms and ammunition from smugglers bringing them into Gaza from Egypt by tunnels under the Philadelphi road.
Every Palestinian organization represented in Gaza is making preparations for `withdrawal day,' and each group is making ready for several scenarios, including one of clashes.
A great deal of effort is also being put into obtaining various types of weapons and ammunition and some of the organizations have direct or indirect control of the tunnels used to smuggle arms.
Others are willing to pay high prices to those who actually smuggle the arms into Gaza. The price of arms has recently increased greatly, after the Egyptians brought in measures to thwart the smugglers. Israel has expressed satisfaction at these but has stressed that they alone are not enough and have called for an even more vigorous policy.
Defense sources say intelligence so far clearly shows that arms smuggling by Palestinians into Gaza, primarily via the Sinai peninsula and under the Philadelphi route are at an all-time high. In the 18 months from January 2003 to and July 2004, around 4,900 Kalashnikov assault rifles, 330 anti-tank devices, 33 shells of various caliber and five machine-guns have been smuggled into the Strip. In addition,two tons of explosives and around 380,000 bullets have been illicitly brought into the Strip.
Despite the Egyptian efforts, it is clear that smuggling still goes on. It does appear Egypt is making a serious effort to prevent the Palestinians from smuggling strategic weapons, such as military-grade Katyushas with a range of 20 kilometers or portable missiles capable of shooting down Israeli helicopters.
If the Palestinians were to lay their hands on such weapons, the entire situation in the Gaza Strip and surrounding area could deteriorate in one fell swoop, forcing Israel to use massive force, which would inevitably lead to civilian casualties.
In meetings between Egyptian and Israeli officials, the Israelis explained the dangers of such a deterioration. The first meeting of the two security delegations was held in Israel. The second will be held in Egypt at the end of this month. By then the Egyptians hope to have completed their round of meetings with the Palestinian factions.
On the Palestinian side, the Egyptians have been holding meetings with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, while Yasser Arafat is still considered the main interlocutor of the Palestinian Authority.
Even though Egypt's demands from Arafat include dates by which he is supposed to complete his part in the preparations for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, Cairo does not define these dates as a deadline. The dates have been mentioned in three Egyptian requests to Arafat, the last on September 1.
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