BY MARK LAVIE
JERUSALEM -- With Israel's blessing, Egypt has delivered a large arms
shipment to forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,
officials said Thursday -- the latest Israeli attempt to boost the
embattled leader in his bloody conflict with the militant Islamic Hamas.
Though there has been a weeklong hiatus in armed clashes, Palestinians
fear the heavily armed security forces of Hamas, which runs the
Palestinian government, and Fatah could erupt in violence at any time.
Israel has been trying to reinforce Abbas' standing among his people.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Abbas is a partner for
negotiations -- unlike Hamas, which rejects the existence of Israel and
refuses to renounce violence.
Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, told Israel
Radio the military assistance was rendered to reinforce the ''forces of
peace'' against the ''forces of darkness'' threatening the region, a
reference to Islamic extremists.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Abbas, issued a statement denying any
arms deal. However, at midday Thursday, witnesses saw a truck belonging
to the pro-Fatah National Security force carrying what appeared to be
sealed boxes of weapons.
When the truck attempted to make a quick detour, one box fell onto the
ground, scattering a pile of automatic guns on the road, the witnesses
said. Security men in the truck quickly got out and collected the
Israel approved the transfer of 2,000 automatic rifles, 20,000
ammunition clips and 2 million bullets on Wednesday, Israeli officials
said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the shipment had not
been officially confirmed by Israel, the Palestinians or Egypt.
Ahmed Youssef, a political adviser to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of
Hamas, said Egyptian officials had assured him no arms were sent. He
accused Israel of spreading false rumors about an arms shipment in ''an
attempt to increase tensions among the Palestinians.''
Seventeen people have died in this month's Hamas-Fatah fighting, which included an assassination attempt on Haniyeh.
On Thursday, the prime minister left Gaza to resume a trip to Gulf
states that had been cut short by the violence, which has since
subsided. He was headed first to Saudi Arabia, then to Kuwait, Qatar
and Jordan, where he and Abbas have been invited by King Abdullah II
for talks. Ref. : Chicago Sun-Times