Sunday, January 30, 2011

In light of domestic security concerns, Egypt seals its border with Gaza, causing almost all trade through the smuggling tunnels along the Rafah border to cease, sparking hoarding by Gazans. Hamas authorities assure the public that it has enough fuel and food stockpiled to last several days, warning merchants against hiking prices. OCHA however—noting that Israel continues to cut off all industrial fuel imports to Gaza for a 3d week making Gaza all the more reliant on smuggled fuel—expresses concern that fuel shortages will quickly become a problem, affecting the ability of municipal authorities to provide electricity, water, and sewage treatment. Meanwhile, Hamas officials in Gaza report that at least 8 Hamas mbrs. jailed in Egypt are among those freed during prisons breaks and rioting across Egypt in recent days; at least 2 have already returned to Gaza through smuggling tunnels on the Rafah border. In the West Bank, the IDF patrols in a village nr. Tulkarm during the day; conducts late-night arrest raids, house searches in Hebron and nr. Jenin and Qalqilya (warning the mayor of Jayyus that his house would be turned into an IDF post if stone-throwing at troops fr. the village continued). (AFP, MNA 1/30; PCHR 2/3; OCHA 2/4)

With major protests (10,000s) in Egypt continuing unabated and a “march of millions” called for 2/1, the Obama admin. calls on Mubarak to facilitate an “orderly transition” to a more representative government but does not explicitly call on him to resign, with Secy. Clinton stressing “we are not advocating any specific outcome,” but “it needs to be done immediately.” France and Germany issue similar statements. Joint Chiefs of Staff head Adm. Mike Mullen phones Egyptian military chief of staff Gen. Sami Anan to express “his appreciation for the continued professionalism of the Egyptian military” in refusing to engage protesters. Amid signs that Mubarak’s regime might really topple, Egypt’s organized opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, huddle for most of the day to discuss whether they could project a united front to provide direction and leadership to the popular protests, choosing opposition figure and fmr. IAEA head Muhammad El-Baradei (as a nonthreatening figure to the West) to represent the opposition in negotiations with the government over a transition and naming 10 persons they would delegate to an interim unity government. But when El-Baradei speaks in Tahrir Square in the evening, demonstrators reject him, saying the opposition parties do not represent them. Fearing that outside forces could begin smuggling weapons into the country to back an overthrow, Egypt seals the Gaza border indefinitely and, with Israel’s permission, moves 2 battalions (800 soldiers) into the Sinai for the 1st time since the 1979 peace treaty was reached, requiring the area to be a demilitarized zone. Israeli officials hold nearly around-the-clock strategy meetings to discuss the implications for Israel if Mubarak’s government falls, fearing that Mubarak’s overthrow could strengthen Hamas in Gaza and destabilize Jordan, but seeing Mubarak’s appointment of Suleiman, who has overseen Israeli-Hamas prisoner release talks, as a hopeful sign. Netanyahu orders officials to stay publicly silent as events play out. (MNA, NYT, WP 1/30; NYT, WP, WT 1/31)