JERUSALEM – European monitors charged with protecting the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip fled their positions yesterday in response to threats by Palestinian terror groups to kidnap foreign nationals, Palestinian sources in Gaza told WND.

The Rafah crossing, the main checkpoint between Egypt at Gaza, has been the scene of rampant Palestinian weapons smuggling and is the area through which terrorists have infiltrated the Palestinian territories the past few months from the neighboring Sinai desert.

The Europeans were deployed at the border as part of a deal brokered last November by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that largely transferred border security from Israel to the Palestinians.

The Europeans fled their Rafah stations yesterday after at least nine foreign nationals, including two British citizens, were taken hostage by terror groups in the West Bank and Gaza following the Israeli siege of a prison complex in Jericho. Palestinian terrorists threatened to kidnap foreigners in response to the Israeli operation at the prison, which ended with the surrender of several wanted terrorists the Palestinian Authority warned it might release.

Rafah is one of the largest crossings between the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. After Rice’s deal was finalized, both Egyptian and Palestinian security forces deployed at the Rafah crossing, and a rotating team of European inspectors was stationed at the border.

A recent WorldNetDaily probe found Rice’s international border agreement 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 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 days 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.

According to security officials, there is information indicating some Palestinian terrorists who crossed into the Sinai through Rafah last month may have met with local jihad cells there before returning to Gaza.

Both Israeli and Palestinian security sources say the Iran- and Syria-backed Hezbollah terror group maintains a presence in the Sinai desert. Israel says Egypt has had 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.

One official close to the border deal told WND yesterday: “In many ways it just doesn’t matter whether the Europeans are there or they flee. The Rafah crossing is unsecured either way.”

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