JERUSALEM – Islamic Hamas militants have smuggled 40 tons of weapons into the Gaza Strip since the group wrested control of the territory in June, sharply increasing its arsenal, according to the latest Israeli intelligence assessment.
A top intelligence official told the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday that Hamas is growing increasingly motivated to carry out attacks on Israeli targets. The Haaretz newspaper reported Monday that security officials fear Hamas' exiled leadership in Syria is working to renew suicide attacks against Israel in an effort to derail peace efforts by Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israeli officials said Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are to meet in Jerusalem on Tuesday, in the latest of a series of get-togethers meant to boost the Palestinian leader in his power struggle with Hamas and to lay the groundwork for resuming peace talks. Palestinians have not confirmed the date or venue.
Hamas' motivation to attack Israel has grown since the Gaza takeover because of the group's international isolation and failure to open Gaza crossings clamped shut by Israel and Egypt, the deputy chief of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence agency told Cabinet ministers on Sunday.
"The chances of suicide attacks by Hamas are growing, both in Gaza and the West Bank and outside the country," said the official, according to a meeting participant whose name could not be released under Israeli civil service rules. The participant gave no evidence to support the claim, and the intelligence official's name was not released because of security concerns.
The explosives Hamas has smuggled into Gaza accounts for about half of the overall amount of weapons sneaked into the territory since Israel evacuated it two years ago, he added.
Army Radio quoted Israeli security officials as expressing anger with Egypt for failing to honor an anti-smuggling agreement. "The Egyptians are speaking with a double tongue," Public Security Minister Avi Dichter told the radio.
Israel blames Hamas for the deaths of more than 250 people in suicide bombing attacks. The militant group, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, last carried out a suicide operation inside Israel in 2004, but continues to launch rockets against Israeli targets from Gaza. It also has done little to halt other militant groups from carrying out attacks from Gaza.
Abbas' expulsion of Hamas from power after the Gaza takeover and his establishment of a rival government in the West Bank has raised hopes that peace talks, broken off in 2001, could resume. Olmert and Abbas have met several times in recent months, but so far, there have been few concrete results.
Palestinians want talks on core issues that could lead to a peace treaty, like final borders. Israel prefers to limit the discussions to general principles and day-to-day matters.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said aides would hold a preparatory session Monday for the next meeting, but did not confirm Israel's account that Abbas and Olmert would sit down together in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Their last meeting was earlier this month in the West Bank town of Jericho, the first time they met inside Palestinian territory.