CAIRO: A senior Egyptian diplomatic source denied an Israeli newspaper report that his country had recently shipped arms to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Fatah party.
The paper said the shipment was approved by Israel and sent through Israeli territory in four trucks accompanied by a military police escort, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the shipment had not been officially confirmed by Israel, the Palestinians or Egypt.
Israeli security officials told the daily Israeli paper Haaretz that the shipment consisted of 2,000 automatic rifles, 20,000 ammunition clips and two million bullets.
The trucks then crossed into the Gaza Strip through the Karni checkpoint, the paper said.
There has been recent talk in Egyptian circles concerning supplying weapons to Abbas personal protection team but this was neither confirmed nor denied by Egyptian sources.
According to Haaretz, the weapons are meant to strengthen Palestinian security services affiliated with Abbas Fatah movement, engaged in a violent struggle for power with the Islamist Hamas group, which controls the Palestinian parliament and Cabinet.
The shipment was a clear signal of Israeli and Egyptian support for Abbas.
Israel had long been reluctant to send weapons to the Palestinians, fearing they would be used against Israelis.
But a recent warming of contacts between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Israel s desire to see Abbas prevail against Hamas seems to have overridden those concerns.
Saeb Erekat, a spokesman for Abbas, declined comment, as did Olmert spokeswoman Miri Eisin and the Israeli Defense Ministry.
Meanwhile, Abbas met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Wednesday and stated afterwards to the press that the time was right to begin closed door discussions with Israel.
It is the right time to talk, Abbas said.