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Thursday, January 24, 2008



The break-out from the Gaza prison of some 200,000 Palestinian prisoners has got to go down in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest ever prison break.

As the Palestinian people flooded out from their prison through a massive breach created by Palestinian fighters in their prison wall, they were greeted by their brother Arabs on the Egyptian side with welcoming arms. Egyptian authorities had little choice but to stand back and let them through.

The US and Israel are furious that the Egyptians made no effort to stop the flood of Palestinians through the breach saying they have grave concerns that the breakout provides an opportunity for Palestinian fighters to bring arms back into the Gaza.

It was inevitable, however, that something had to give in the Gaza. The pressure on the Palestinian people caused by the deprivations initiated by the Israelis attempt to starve and generally make life as unbearable as possible for the Palestinian people were just too much for them to bear any longer. The breakout was clearly the last thing that the Israelis expected and it will be seen around the world as a considerable propaganda victory for the Gazan people.

Already Palestinians laden with food and fuel supplies are beginning to trickle back to their homes inside the Gaza. Furthermore, they are returning home without being molested or searched by Egyptian authorities wanting to check people back in. This is a significant turning point in Israeli-Egyptian relations because it means that the Israelis have lost control over access to the Gaza and, if the crossing does remain open on a more permanent basis, it also means that the Israelis will no longer be able to put pressure on the Gazan people by collectively punishing them via deprivation of fuel, food and medicines. What happens next will be crucial for the Gazan people.

There are a number of scenarios which the Israelis could follow up with. If they can’t get the Egyptians to shut down the crossing, the Israelis may consider invading the Gaza in order to, first, close down the crossing from the Gaza side and, secondly, to seek out the arms that have been brought in during the breakout. This would be bound to upset world public opinion, but, one needs to ask, since when have the Israelis been concerned about public opinion? Such an invasion would not happen without a fight however. Hamas have now taken over control of the border and any invasion by the Israelis would be met with stiff resistance.

Other consequences of the breakout have been a massive groundswell of popular support for Hamas. This is also bound to have some effect in the West Bank as Abbas could see this as a threat to his own powerbase if Palestinians in the West Bank divert their support to Hamas.

The breakout has also rekindled support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt who are in alliance with Hamas and support the Palestinian cause. This, in turn, is putting domestic pressure on Egypt’s leader Hosni Mubarak who has already arrested hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters.

The breakout is not something that had been scripted in to Israel’s game plan and how they react will be of crucial importance in many ways to the future of the Middle East.

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