Egyptian Intelligence Chief Postpones Visit Due to Gaza Tensions

Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman will not visit Jerusalem next week as scheduled, due to military escalation between Israel and Hamas.

Hana Levi Julian ,

Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman
Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman

Plans for a visit to Jerusalem next week by Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman are on the back burner.
Suleiman had been due to meet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.  He was also expected to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose visit to Israel would have coincided with his.

Suleiman called Barak Friday morning to tell him he was postponing the visit, originally set for the middle of next week.  According to Voice of Israel government radio, Suleiman cancelled to protest Israel's air strikes on Hamas terrorists in Gaza, but intends to reschedule for another date.

The Egyptian intelligence chief is considered the second-most powerful man in Cairo, after President Hosni Mubarak. Suleiman is the top Egyptian official involved in mediations between Israel and Hamas terrorists on every issue, including efforts to secure the release of kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit, abducted in a cross-border raid from Gaza in June 2006.

The meetings with Suleiman were originally intended to discuss a possible deal to re-open the border crossing at Rafiah, often referred to as Gaza's international gateway. The crossing was sealed by Egypt when Hamas took over Gaza last June.

The border barrier next to the crossing was breached when it was blown up by Hamas last month, and then re-sealed by Egypt with an ominous warning to the terrorists not to repeat the error.

Hundreds of thousands of Gaza residents flooded into Egypt, with terrorists attacking Egyptian police officers who tried initially to repair the barrier. Thousands of terrorists also crossed over, many infiltrating into Sinai.

After three weeks, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit issued a grim notice to Hamas leaders that the border would be resealed, and that anyone who tried to breach the new barrier would "have their legs cut off."

While Suleiman postponed next week's meeting due to the mounting military crisis in Gaza, Prime Minister Olmert met with senior defense officials Friday morning on the same issue.

The week's barrage of 11 Russian-made mid-range Grad missiles fired at the port city of Ashkelon is seen as a major escalation by Hamas which has taken the war to a new level.

The coastal city, home to approximately 110,000 Israelis, is some 15 kilometers north of Gaza.
For the first time, Ashkelon activated on Friday the "Color Red" rocket alert system, which offers a bare 15 to 20 seconds' notice of an incoming missile attack.

Until now, attacks have been largely confined to firing short-range homemade Kassam rockets at Jewish communities in the western Negev within a 7 to 9-kilometer range.