NUSEIRAT, Gaza Strip: Egypt's revolution brought sudden freedom to Ayman Nofal.
During the chaos in Cairo, the Hamas commander broke out of an Egyptian jail with thousands of others, traversed the Sinai Desert, crawled through a smuggling tunnel at the border and emerged back home in the Gaza Strip to a hero's welcome.
Now he has one thing on his mind. ''I'm anxious to get back to fighting Israel,'' said the Palestinian accused by Egypt of plotting terrorist strikes against Israelis holidaying in the Sinai. Sitting in his home in the Nuseirat refugee camp, surrounded by his children, the 37-year-old added: ''I'm ready for the next battle.''
Ramifications of the leadership change in Egypt are pulsating through the Gaza Strip, raising new doubts about Israel's strategy for containing Hamas.
Thanks to a controversial sea and land cordon imposed with the help of the now ousted Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and a 22-day military offensive two years ago that killed 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, Israeli officials were once confident that Hamas had been beaten into submission, at least for the short term.
But with Mr Mubarak out, Hamas leaders are eyeing the prospect of a friendly government on their southern frontier, viewing it as their best chance yet to break a siege that has choked Gaza's economy and trapped its residents.
''Israel is the big loser in recent events,'' a Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, said. ''This is a new era. They should fear.''
Under Mr Mubarak, Egypt provided crucial support to Israel, sealing its border with Gaza, blocking smuggling tunnels and arresting numerous Hamas leaders. Mr Mubarak said he feared that Hamas, an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, would spread extremism in his nation.
With the Brotherhood, which had been outlawed in Egypt for decades, now an emerging force in the nation's politics, Hamas is hoping for warmer ties with Cairo, including an open border, free trade and diplomatic exchanges.
''This is our opportunity to have ordinary relations and break the siege,'' Mr Zahar said.
Even under Mubarak, Israelis complained that the Egyptian-Gazan border was like Swiss cheese, on account of the proliferation of arms-smuggling tunnels. They warn that Hamas is already exploiting the chaos to resupply with heavy guns and rockets through the Sinai peninsula. An open border would make the arms flow even worse.
''Mubarak agreed that Hamas needed to be tamed,'' said Ilan Mizrahi, former head of Israel's National Security Council. ''I'm not sure the new regime will adopt the same policy … That could open a gate for money, weapons and Iranian instructors.''
Nofal said Israel's capacity to impose its military will on Gaza had been weakened.
''Without Egypt's backing, Israel could never start another war in Gaza like the past one,'' he said.
Israeli army officials, eager to ensure that the landmark 1979 peace treaty with Egypt remains in force, declined to comment.
So far, Egypt's military-led interim authority has left in place a temporary closure of the Gaza border, which was sealed for security reasons during the unrest. But Mr Zahar said Hamas had received hints that it would reopen this month.
Los Angeles Times