More than 1,000 Palestinans are stranded on the Egypt-Gaza border waiting to cross home, acording to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Some 87 Palestinians managed to enter Gaza Strip through a hole in the wall separating Gaza from Egypt, the report added.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry vehemently deplored recent statements by Israeli Minister of Public Security Avraham Dichter accusing Egypt of failing to face up to weapons smuggling via the Egyptian borders to the Gaza Strip.
According to media reports, Israel had complained to the US of such an alleged shortcoming.
The Egyptian ministry’s spokesman was astonished that Israel’s allegations linked the success of next month’s US-sponsored peace conference to halting such smuggling operations.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected any accusation levelled against Egypt as blocking efforts to relaunch the Mideast peace process by condoning weapons smuggling operations.
He said Israel’s attempts to file beefs to the US against Egypt are well-known manoeuvres to Egypt, adding that he wondered if Israeli Minister of Public Security Avraham Dichter had a personal problem with Egypt as he had released similar statements before.
The Israeli escalation falls within the framework of the Israeli policy moving against Egypt’s interests and coincides with an upcoming Congress conference to agree on US aid to Egypt in 2008, added the spokesman.
Visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a Ramallah press conference on Monday that the peace conference planned to be held in Annapolis, Maryland, should be ‘serious and substantive’.
She said: ‘This is going to be a serious and substantive conference that will advance the cause of the establishment of a Palestinian state.
‘We frankly have better things to do than invite people to Annapolis for a photo op.’
President Bush ‘has decided to make this one of the highest priorities of his administration and of his time in office,’ she declared.
She asserted: ‘It means he is absolutely serious about moving this issue forward and moving it as rapidly as possible to conclusion.’
Rice held four hours of talks with Abbas in the occupied West Bank after meeting Israeli leaders on Sunday on her seventh trip to the region this year.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas have met four times in two months to prepare for the meeting, and newly created negotiating teams are trying to hammer out a joint document ahead of the conference.
Nevertheless there is widespread disagreement over what such a joint document will say.
The Palestinians have warned that if no timetable for a final status resolution is forthcoming, they will not attend the conference.
The Israelis say they do not believe an agreed text is necessary.
Rice stressed that the two sides ‘are not going to try to solve everything in this November document but it does need to be a serious and substantive and concrete document that demonstrates that there is a way forward’.
She warned that ‘there are compromises that will have to be made’.
Rice added that ‘the November document is not the final status agreement in itself’ but is ‘a basis for negotiations on the establishment of a Palestinian state.’
Recent Israeli orders to impound Arab land near Jerusalem have increased tensions and Rice said on Sunday that she would be telling Israel during her meetings that the move erodes confidence.
Earlier, the UN human rights envoy to the Occupied Territories John Dugard had strongly criticised the Quartet group trying to promote an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, saying it is not doing enough to challenge Israel’s restrictions on the movement of Palestinians.
Dugard said he thought the UN might soon need to withdraw from the Quartet (UN, the US, the EU and Russia) because it was ‘failing in its duty to the Palestinian people’.
On Sunday, the Izz-al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, denied that it intend to carry out fedayeen operations inside Israel to thwart the November conference.
In a statement, the brigades said: ‘The report in a number of Hebrew newspapers to the effect that Al-Qassam Brigades, the military arm of Hamas, intends to carry out a large martyrdom operation inside the Zionist oppressive state so as to torpedo the so-called the fall conference attests to the Zionist enemy’s police mentality and to that it perceives the conference as a security gathering to protect the Zionist entity as it believes that a military operation by the resistance will blow up the conference.’
This was a reference to a report by Amit Kohen in the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv (in Hebrew) which said: ‘According to information gathered by the Palestinian security apparatuses, Hamas is planning a large terrorist attack from the Gaza Strip to torpedo the Annapolis conference.
‘The assessment is that Hamas will attempt to carry out a kidnapping attack, similar to the one that resulted in the abduction of Gilad Shalit.’
The paper added: ‘According to Palestinian intelligence, Hamas activists have been digging an “operational” tunnel from the northern Gaza Strip towards Israel.
‘The Palestinians believe that the tunnel would be used to infiltrate a terrorist squad into Israel to attack a military position and abduct a soldier, and that the attack would be carried out before or during the Annapolis conference.
‘They also fear massive rocket attacks during the parley.’
The Qassam Brigades further said that ‘these fabricated and unfounded intelligence reports are an attempt to deceive the international decision makers, public opinion and media outlets.’
The brigades added: ‘These leaked reports come ahead of a possible Zionist aggression to coincide with the fall conference.
‘They are an attempt to justify the Zionist attacks and crimes that the occupation intends to carry out against the Palestinian resistance and people.
‘The brigades will not let it go by without an earth-shaking retaliation.’
The brigades affirmed that ‘the assassinations and killings of our mujahidin and leaders as well as Palestinian people will not induce us to make compromises, but will only give us strength and increase our determination to continue striking the occupation.
‘If the enemy wagers on that the assassinations and attacks will halt our resistance, then it is deluded and wrong, and will eventually realize this.’
They further stated that ‘our resistance of the occupation does not hinge on international or regional conferences or incomplete bilateral agreements, but on the existence of the occupation.
‘No international conference can tie our hands or prevent us from carrying out our duty of resistance and preparing for striking the unjust occupying enemy.’