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The Hamas Factor

Hamas has been relatively quiet of late. No longer. Last night, they sent a barrage of rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel. One rocket hit the town of Ofakim and another the town of Netivot, where it landed near a wedding celebration. Four people were treated for shock; there were no other injuries. (lsrael, by the way, has reinforced the army and police presence on the border in response to the unrest in Egypt.)

As far as Egypt is concerned, Hamas is in a bind. On the one hand, they’re salivating at the prospect of permanently ending the Egyptian blockade of Gaza, which began the moment Hamas threw out Fatah in 2007. Once the blockade is lifted, it’s onward and upward. If the Mubarak regime falls and is replaced by ElBaradei, the inflow of arms into Gaza will almost certainly become infinitely easier. Hamas will have reason to celebrate.

But what if Mubarak stays, or departs only to be replaced by Suleiman? For Hamas, life could get even tougher than it already is.  As you know, the Egyptian army received permission from Israel over the weekend to enter the Sinai for the first time since the signing of the peace treaty in 1979. Its object is to seal the Egypt-Gaza border in order to prevent members of Hamas — which, remember, is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood — from infiltrating Egypt and joining the opposition. In the process of securing the border, Egypt has shut down the smuggling tunnels in the Philadelphi Corridor, resulting in a cutoff of fuel supplies into Gaza. Gazans are reported to be texting one another to hurry up and fill up their cars.

So what should Hamas do? Come out swinging in favor of the opposition, or maintain a tactful silence until it becomes clear which way the cookie’s going to crumble?

On the one hand, they are not allowing Gazans to demonstrate in support of the Egyptian protesters, for fear of retribution if Mubarak/Suleiman comes out on top. (The PA has made the same calculation, quelling a demonstration before it could get off the ground.) But on the other hand, there are reports of direct clashes between Hamas and the Egyptian army. DebkaFile — which, I caution, is notoriously alarmist — even goes so far as to say that Hamas has “opened a second, Palestinian, front against the Mubarak regime on orders from Hamas’ parent organization, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, confirmed by its bosses in Damascus.” They do not reveal the source of this information, and I have not seen confirmation of it elsewhere. It appears fishy on the face of it — if the decision has been made from on high that Hamas is officially to take on the Egyptian regime, there’s no logic to the suppression of Gazan demonstrations on behalf of the Egyptian protesters — but there might be another explanation for the silencing of Gazans. If Hamas allows them to gather and protest, who knows? They might protest Hamas.

Hey, a girl can hope.