Hamas 'planning large attack'

Hamas is seeking to launch a "large-scale" suicide attack inside Israel to torpedo chances of a peace deal with moderate Palestinians, a senior Israeli security official has warned.

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The second in command of Israel's Shin Beth internal security services was quoted by a senior government official as telling ministers that the Islamist group's exiled leadership in Damascus is calling for such an attack.

"There is a clear directive from Hamas abroad to Hamas terrorists in the West Bank to carry out a deadly large-scale attack in Israel," a source quoted the security official as saying.

Hamas is seeking to torpedo any chance of a deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, led by president Mahmud Abbas, whose moderate Fatah movement was ousted from the Gaza Strip by Hamas in June, he said.

Hamas warnings

Hamas supremo Khaled Meshaal warned in an interview last week that despite renewed peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, resistance remained the only option for his movement.

"As long as Israel does not put an end to its occupation and its settlements and as long as it does not recognise Palestinian rights, our policy of resistance will be the only option," Mr Meshaal said.

The Shin Beth commander, whose identity remains secret, also expressed concern at the surge in arms trafficking on Gaza's border with Egypt since Hamas came to power.

Shin Beth has obtained information that 40 tonnes of weapons and explosives have been smuggled from Egypt into the Gaza Strip in the last two months, mainly through tunnels, the source added.

In August alone, some 13 tonnes of explosives and 150 anti-tank rocket launchers were smuggled into the Gaza Strip, the source said.

Shin Beth estimated that 33 tonnes of explosives were brought in 2006, compared to six tonnes in 2005, in addition to 14,000 assault rifles, 150 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and 20 missiles, the source said.

The tunnels, believed to have been dug in the last six months on both sides of the border with Rafah and surrounding areas, are several hundred metres long and six to 15 metres wide, experts say.

The Israeli army had great trouble finding them when it occupied the border of the Gaza Strip with Egypt before its withdrawal from the territory in September 2005.