Thursday, January 4, 2007

Egypt-US-EU agents for Israel search Palestinian PM on return from Haj

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh arrived at the Egypt-Gaza border Thursday after undergoing unprecedented security measures to ensure that he is not carrying money or weapons into the Gaza Strip.

Haniyeh was returning from a pilgrimage to Islam's holiest city Mecca.

The measures were planned by representatives of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the United States and the European Union.

Representatives of the four parties met in Jerusalem on Wednesday to coordinate security arrangements concluded during Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's meeting with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas nearly two weeks ago. They also discussed the operation of the Rafah crossing between Sinai and Gaza in anticipation of Haniyeh's arrival.

In accordance with the agreed-upon arrangements, the Saudi Arabian aircraft carrying Haniyeh landed in El-Arish and underwent a detailed security inspection by a joint American-Egyptian team, in the presence of Nizami Muhane, the PA official responsible for the border crossings. The team was to confiscate any weapons or money.

Afterward, Egypt informed the EU monitors at Rafah that Haniyeh and his aides are "clean" of both weapons and money.

Haniyeh will now have to complete the rudimentary inspection reserved for VIPs, following which he and his entourage will enter Gaza in four armored vehicles belonging to the office of the PA chairman.

Two weeks ago, Haniyeh was delayed for seven hours at Rafah after trying to enter Gaza carrying large sums of cash donated to Hamas during his visit to Iran and other Muslim countries that support the organization.

He was ultimately allowed to enter Gaza only after surrendering the cash to aides in Egypt. Both Abbas and Israel are trying to avoid a repetition of this scenario, which resulted in tensions among Fatah and Hamas, and also elevated Haniyeh to the status of hero among Hamas supporters.

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