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JERUSALEM – After months of denying al-Qaida had any relationship with Palestinian groups, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in remarks published today there were signs the global terror organization has established itself in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

“We have indications about a presence of al-Qaida in Gaza and the (West) Bank. This is intelligence information. We have not yet reached the point of arrests,” Abbas said.

“The last security report I received was three days ago,” Abbas told the London-based al-Hayat newspaper. “This is the first time that I’ve spoken about this subject. This is a very serious matter.”

Abbas’ statements follow a series of warnings by senior Israeli intelligence officials that al-Qaida operatives infiltrated Gaza while the Rafah crossing, the main terminal at Gaza’s border with Egypt’s Sinai desert, was opened for several days immediately following Israel’s withdrawal from the area this past August.

Egyptian officials attempted to close the border several times, but Hamas and other terror groups managed to reopen the crossing, once using a controlled explosion along the border fence and another time ramming a dump truck through the border wall.

Egypt has admitted to difficulty eliminating al-Qaida cells in Sinai suspected of involvement in recent terror attacks, including the bombings in Sharm el Sheikh in July and Taba last year, which together killed more than 100 people.

Palestinian officials, including Abbas, repeatedly had denied al-Qaida maintained cells on Palestinian territory.

In September, Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi Farkash, chief of intelligence for the Israeli Defense Forces, said al-Qaida infiltrated Gaza and was interested in attacking Israel.

“This is absolutely no truth to these reports, which are Israeli propaganda,” Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat told WND in response to Farkash’s comments.

Days before Farkash’s statements, an intelligence official associated with Farkash told WND, “Militants linked to Hezbollah, al-Qaida and other international terror groups are now very likely in Gaza. The groups had set up bases in the Sinai that are still functioning, and we have information indicating members managed to get inside Gaza. These are people with advanced knowledge in specific kinds of deadly attacks and explosions.”

Security officials said they feared al-Qaida terrorists who made it to Gaza will try to cross into the West Bank’s Palestinian population centers, which border many of Israel’s major cities.

Yaacov Amidror, former chief of research for Israeli military intelligence, told WND al-Qaida may seek to use Gaza as a sanctuary to plan attacks throughout the Middle East.

“Today, one of the weaknesses of al-Qaida is its lack of a safe haven in the Middle East,” Amidror said. “The new realities in Gaza will make it one of the most convenient places for al-Qaida to base their global operations. The Gaza Strip will become a paradise because it will be an area in which the population and the terror groups in power, especially Hamas, share the same ideology as al-Qaida.”

Reuven Erlich, director of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at Israel’s Center for Special Studies, stressed the common ideological links between al-Qaida and Hamas, which is currently forming the next PA government.

The link, Erlich said, can be emphasized through Palestinian cleric Abdullah Azzam, who was al-Qaida’s ideologue and until his death, Osama bin Laden’s spiritual mentor.

“We found Azzam’s picture on Hamas posters from Gaza and a lot of Hamas material,” Erlich told WND. “Azzam’s portrait in materials reveal that he is perceived by Hamas as one of the four ‘outstanding figures’ of the Islamic ‘struggle’ in Palestine and around the world.”

A senior Israel security official involved in the investigation of possible al-Qaida operatives in Gaza told WND today he fears the global group can still make its way from Sinai into the Gaza Strip due to major security lapses at the Rafah crossing following a deal brokered in November by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

A WorldNetDaily probe published last week found Rice’s international border agreement, which called for European monitors at the Rafah crossing, is allowing terrorists to infiltrate the Gaza Strip, where they are poised to attack Israel. WND also found the deal allows Gaza-based terrorists freedom to travel into Sinai, where they can meet with regional jihadists.

Rice’s agreement, which Israel accepted reportedly after intense American pressure, restricted the Jewish state to monitor the area by camera, called for a European presence at the border station and offered the Palestinians some veto power on vehicles and persons entering Gaza.

New border rules stipulate Israel cannot restrict who leaves Gaza, but it can ask the European monitors to delay for several hours anyone crossing the border if Israel provides information indicating an entrant may be a security threat.

Israeli security officials told WND the cameras at the border are not sufficient to identify entrants, and they said the Palestinians have been failing to supply accurate and timely lists of individuals crossing into Gaza. They charged the Palestinians have tampered with the names of entrants, accusing Palestinian border workers of deliberately disguising the personal information of terrorists crossing the border.

“The result,” one security officials said, “is that the border between Gaza and Egypt is nonexistent.”

Indeed, several senior terrorists based in Gaza told WorldNetDaily the past few weeks they were able to cross into the Sinai and back without a problem.

One terror leader said he went to Egypt for “vacation.”

Hamas chief Mahmoud al-Zahar’s brother, Fadel, entered Gaza through Rafah just day’s after Rice’s border deal was implemented, reportedly bringing with him 13 other wanted terrorists. Fadel Al-Zahar had been deported by Israel to Lebanon in 1991 after he was accused of orchestrating attacks.



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