DEBKAfile Exclusive: Two ferries with 1,700 passengers now involved in Gulf of Aqaba standoff against Hamas threat. A Palestinian woman dies under the strain
Our military and intelligence sources reported earlier that the hundreds of Hamas and other terrorist chiefs aboard the Jordanian ferry The Princess are threatening to torch the craft anchored opposite Nuweiba, Sinai, and scuttle it with everyone aboard unless Egypt permitted them to land without conditions.
A 62-year old Palestinian female passenger, Shafiqa Bahisi, has since died under the strain. It also transpires that an Egyptian craft is involved in the standoff. Rather than surrender, the lead Hamas negotiator aboard the ferry, Kemal Neirab, aka Abu Awad, of the Popular Resistance Committees, Gaza, is threatening a world-class human tragedy.
As the hours passed Saturday, Dec. 29, without a let-up, Hamas gathered tens of thousands of supporters from around the Gaza Strip to ram the Rafah gateway to Egyptian Sinai, while Cairo beefed up its security units at the terminal.
According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, Hamas leaders have been trying to smuggle suitcases packed with the equivalent of $150 m in Jordanian and Egyptian currency into Gaza since the end of the Mecca pilgrimage last Friday.
To disembark, Egypt has demanded that each sign a pledge to enter Gaza through the Nitzana or Kerem Shalom crossings. These border posts are under joint Egyptian-Israeli control. Israeli customs is authorized to search incoming travelers and impound smuggled and terror-related items. Our intelligence sources report that several Hamas operatives aboard The Princess are high on Israel’s wanted terrorist list and can look forward to immediate arrest.
This is the first time since the war on Islamist terror began that a jihadist group has taken two public passenger ferries hostage.
Egyptian naval and commando forces have massed at Nuweiba, rushed there from Sharm el-Sheikh further down the Sinai coast, where president Hosni Mubarak has been hosting French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Grimly determined not to let the hundreds of Hamas operatives transit Sinai with their war funds, Egyptian forces have set up a large tent camp to take them into custody if they try and disembark
Of the $150 m in Hamas suitcases, around $50 m was donated by Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his secret rendezvous with Hamas leaders during the hajj on Wed. Dec. 19; the rest was collected by Hamas’ parent, the Muslim Brotherhood and handed over under cover of the pilgrimage. Our sources disclose that Brotherhood branches worldwide launched a secret fundraising drive on behalf of Hamas last September under the slogan: “Contribute to save Hamas rule in Gaza.”
If delivered, the money is enough to keep Hamas’ military operations going for another three to four months, including missile and other attacks.
Saudi authorities permitted the cash to be brought into the kingdom and handed to Hamas leaders. Egypt allowed Hamas leaders to leave the Gaza Strip for the hajj.
Cairo’s new resolve is the outcome of Mubarak’s talks with visiting Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak last week and their decision to join forces to combat the war activities mounted from Gaza by Hamas and its allies.
DEBKAfile’s sources reveal that the Gulf of Aqaba standoff began on the night of Wednesday, Dec. 26, when the Hamas delegation to Mecca arrived in Aqaba to catch the ferry to Nuweiba. Egyptian authorities warned Jordan that they would not be allowed to disembark. After giving the group 48 hours to cut a deal with Cairo, Jordan finally decided to get rid of this disruptive element. They boarded the ferry without a deal. The two ships are now at anchor opposite Nuweiba, their passengers trapped on board with no end in sight.