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JERUSALEM – Five months after their organizations urged U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to pressure Israel into accepting a border deal WND reported may have facilitated a major planned suicide operation this week, leftist American Jewish leaders assert they stand by their vocal support for the international agreement.
The Jewish leaders made the statements in spite of a recent WND probe that found Rice’s Rafah border deal has allowed terrorists to infiltrate the Gaza Strip, where they are poised to attack Israel, and grants Gaza-based terrorists freedom to travel into the nearby Sinai desert, where they can meet with regional jihadists – as officials say was the case with this week’s thwarted major bombing against Israel.
The Jewish leaders were also unapologetic after hearing Israeli security officials are now calling the border agreement the leaders urged an “abject failure” threatening the country’s security.
“We have absolutely no regrets. Of course not. It was the right thing. The Palestinians must have freedom of movement,” Seymour Reich, president of the Israel Policy Forum, a prominent leftist think tank, told WND yesterday.
Reich was one of several leftist Jewish leaders who pressed Rice during a meeting prior to her trip here this past November to pressure Israel into signing a deal regarding security at the Rafah crossing, the main checkpoint between Egypt at Gaza. The checkpoint is one of the largest crossings between the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. It has been the scene of rampant Palestinian weapons smuggling the past few years.
Up until Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August, the Gaza side of the border was entirely controlled by the Israeli Defense Forces. But Rice’s border deal, 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.
WND reported just before Rice brokered the deal in November several leftist Jewish groups encouraged her to take a tough line with Israel against settlement expansion and involvement in Palestinian border affairs.
Reich told reporters after meeting Rice before her Mideast trip: “I have no doubt that we bolstered the secretary of state’s instinct and strengthened her opinion that aggressive American involvement was needed to achieve practical results.”
A source close to the Jewish groups pressuring Rice told WND one senior Jewish leftist leader claimed to the secretary of state her tough stance against Israel while brokering the Rafah deal will result in strong support from American Jews.
After Rice’s border deal was finalized in November, both Egyptian and Palestinian security forces deployed at the Rafah crossing, and a rotating team of European inspectors was stationed at the border. The Europeans have fled their posts a number of times in response to security threats.
New border rules, which sources close to the deal say were partially devised by Rice herself, 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 immediate information indicating an entrant may be a security threat. The regulations restrict Israel to rely on security cameras at the border and a list of entrants supplied by the Palestinians.
Israeli security officials told WND the cameras at the Rafah 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.
“There have been many cases of Israel not getting lists at all,” said a security official. “Or we get them so near the time of arrival we don’t have nearly enough time to ask an entrant to be delayed.”
Israeli security officials 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 previously have previously told WorldNetDaily they were able to cross into the Sinai and back without a problem.
On Tuesday, Palestinian forces thwarted what would have likely been a major car bombing at the Karni crossing, the main cargo terminal between Israel and Gaza. The crossing is controlled by the Palestinians on the Gaza side and by Israeli officers on the Israeli side.
Security officials said the car, which was captured after Palestinian officers became suspicious and opened fire at the vehicle, contained “enormous” amounts of explosives meant to be detonated at the border crossing inside Israel.
At almost the exact same time in Sinai, on the Egyptian side of the Gaza-Egypt border just outside Israel’s Rafah crossing, two suicide bombers exploded near a multinational United Nations peacekeeping force, injuring at least four people.
Palestinian security officials told WND they have information the terrorists involved in Tuesday’s thwarted Karni attack traveled from Gaza to the Sinai desert via the Rafah crossing. In Sinai, they received instructions and training and met with local jihadists to coordinate the bombings.
An Israeli official said, “We are still investigating the Karni attack. Certainly the Rafah crossing is now allowing terrorists from Gaza to cross into Sinai for training and instructions. It is very likely this collapse of any security at Rafah facilitated [Tuesday’s] thwarted attack.”
The planners of this week’s attempted bombing would not be the first to cross through the Rafah checkpoint unimpeded since Rice’s deal was implemented.
Hamas chief Mahmoud al-Zahar’s brother, Fadel, entered Gaza through Rafah just days after Rice’s border deal was finalized, 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.
One terror leader – a member of the Popular Resistance Committees, which is suspected of involvement in the thwarted Israel crossing attack – said he went to the Sinai for “vacation” last month.
But the leftist Jewish leaders who urged Rice to pressure Israel said yesterday their support for the Rafah border deal remains unchanged.
Lewis Roth, assistant director of Americans for Peace Now, a popular leftist group supporting final status negotiations to create a Palestinian state, said, “The fact of the matter is the Palestinians need some opening to the outside world. Rafah certainly provides the best arrangement. There are some issues that need to be addressed, but we still support the deal.”
Roth said his organization also calls for dialogue regarding the possibility of the Palestinians opening an airport in the Gaza Strip.
One New York-based Jewish leader close to the Jewish groups’ talks with Rice, speaking on condition of anonymity, previously told WND, “I don’t think there was any doubt the Rafah border crossing would fail and damage Israel. Only Israel can provide for its own security.”
Reich of the Israel Policy Forum, repeating statements he made in February, said yesterday, “We support the utility of the Rafah deal. It was the right agreement at the right time.”
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