Friday, January 25, 2008

Weekly Update

News of the Israeli-Palestinian Confrontation
January 15-22, 2008
Lior Ben-Shimol, 5, from Sderot was wounded when a rocket hit the home of neighbor where she was playing (The Israel Project, January 16)

Hamas's Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades issued a video clipcassette documenting Qassam rocket fire into Israel (Al-Arabiya TV, January 18).


Events this past week focused on the massive Hamas rocket attack, the first since the organization took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007. In four days, there were more than 150 identified rocket hits in Israeli territory in Sderot and western Negev towns and villages.

In view of the attacks, Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered a closure of the crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The order went into effect on January 20 and supplies of fuel and other items stopped. They were renewed on January 22 with limited amounts of supplies being transferred.

The closing of the crossings led to a lack of fuel and basic commodities in the Gaza Strip and there were power outages. The lack was made to seem greater than it actually was by Hamas's propaganda campaign , which portrays the Gaza Strip as on the verge of a humanitarian crisis to provoke international and pan-Arab pressure on Israel . In fact there has been a deterioration of the situation in the Gaza Strip, but Hamas's descriptions were exaggerated and sometimes false .

Counterterrorist Activities

Rocket attack against Israel

The daily fighting between the Israeli security forces and the Palestinian terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip escalated . For four days, between January 15 and 18, Hamas sent a massive barrage of rockets at the western Negev , for the first time since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007. The attack was in response to the IDF's intensive counterterrorist activities against mortar shell-launching squads, during which 19 Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of whom were Hamas terrorist operatives, were killed. Among them was the son of senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar. 1

Hamas's Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades issued a video clip documenting
Qassam rocket fire into Israeli territory (Al-Arabiya TV, January 18).

During the four days of battle, 150 rocket hits were identified in Israeli territory , for most of which Hamas claimed responsibility . Hamas's participation in rocket launching led to a sharp increase in the amount of rocket fire, and between January 15 and 18 there was an average of 35 identified rocket hits a day . On January 19 Hamas stopped, 2 and since then rocket fire has returned to its “routine” level of several hits a day. 3 On January 20 Hamas returned to its familiar policy of firing rockets and mortar shells at the Israeli forces operating in the Gaza Strip and at the kibbutzim and moshavim located close to the security fence .

Homes in Sderot suffer direct hits (The Israel Project, January 17).

Six Israeli civilians were wounded by the rockets, among them a five year-old girl; there were additional cases of shock. Most of the injured were from Sderot and there was considerable property damage to several buildings.

Initial summary of rocket and mortar shell hits during the past week 4

Palestinian Authority Response

During the first two days of the rocket attack, senior PA officials, among them Abu Mazen, vigorously condemned the IDF action, which killed 19 Palestinians, the majority of whom were Hamas terrorist operatives. They called the action “aggression,” “slaughter” and a “crime,” and warned that it would damage the negotiations, while completely ignoring the continuous rocket and mortar shell attacks which precipitated it. The PA joined the Hamas-proclaimed general strike on January 16. Thus, in effect, Abu Mazen and the PA joined Hamas's propaganda campaign . 5

As the rocket attacks and IDF activities continued, in an exceptional act Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the attacks. In a speech given at a ceremony in the village of Salpit on January 19 he said that the rockets launched from the Gaza Strip “would only bring catastrophe to the Palestinian people” (Palestinian TV, January 19). His statement provoked a wave of reactions from the various terrorist organizations. Abu Obeida , a spokesman for Hamas's Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said that Fayyad wanted to “earn” the money contributed by the international community, “since he sold the Palestinian cause and the resistance [i.e. terrorism] at Annapolis ” (Filastin al-‘An Website). Abu Mujahed , spokesman for the Salah al-Din Brigades, demanded that Fayyad end “the sterile meetings with the occupier [which he carries out] instead of slinging mud at the resistance” (Pal-today Website, January 19).

The launching of three Nasser-3 rockets against the IDF army base at Zikim on January 19 by a PRC group headed by Zakaria Dughmush. The pictures show that the rockets being launched from the front yard of a private house in a residential area (Muqawamah Website, January 20). The Palestinian terrorist organizations customarily use the civilian populace as human shields and both locate their terrorist networks and fire rockets and mortar shells from populated areas.

Closing the crossings into the Gaza Strip

Following Hamas's massive rocket attack of the western Negev towns and villages from the Gaza Strip, on January 17 Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced that the crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip would be closed and that no merchandise or fuel would enter for a number of days . On January 20 most of the crossings were closed: the Karni Crossing (used for the passage of merchandise), the Nahal Oz Crossing (used for the transfer of fuel) and the Sufa and Kerem Shalom Crossings . The Erez Crossing remained open for cases if humanitarian aid.

On the morning of January 22, a number of days after Hamas's massive rocket barrage, the Nahal Oz crossing reopened in a restricted fashion following orders from the Israeli defense minister. On the same morning Israel renewed pumping diesel fuel into the Gaza Strip through the fuel terminal at Nahal Oz and cooking gas was again supplied. In addition, the transfer of a number of essential humanitarian items (such as milk and drugs) was also renewed. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas represented the renewal of the transfer of fuel as a “victory” over Israel resulting from their intensive pan-Arab and international political and propaganda campaign. Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official, was quick to make it clear that Hamas would continue the path of violence and terrorism. 6

Counterterrorist activities in the Gaza Strip

The focus of the IDF's counterterrorist activities was the mortar shell launching squads in the Gaza Strip, in which the IDF managed to strike Hamas a severe blow. On January 15, 19 Palestinians were killed, the majority of whom were Hamas terrorist operatives (according to a Hamas statement). Among those killed was Hussam al-Zahar, the son of senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar, who was a field operative in the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

Over the weekend (January 17-20) IDF forces in collaboration with the Israeli Air Force continued their counterterrorist activities in the Gaza Strip:

• January 20 : The IAF attacked and killed an armed terrorist riding in a wagon carrying rockets. According to the Palestinian media, he belonged to a Palestinian Islamic Jihad squad. Three other operatives were wounded. The IAF also attacked two armed terrorists in Gaza City . The Ma'an News Agency reported that one was killed and the other critically wounded (January 21).

• January 19 : During an IDF action inside the Gaza Strip a firefight broke out between the soldiers and four Hamas operatives in the Jabaliya refugee camp. The terrorists surrendered and were detained (along with other suspects) by the IDF soldiers. During the action a number of armed squads were attacked, including those firing mortar shells. Two terrorist operatives were killed and others wounded.

Kalashnikov rifles found in the possession of the four terrorist operatives
captured by the IDF forces in the Jabaliya refugee camp
(IDF Spokesman, January 19).

• January 19 : During the day the IAF attacked a vehicle carrying weapons and rockets in the Jabaliya refugee camp. A Hamas operative was killed and four were wounded, two of them critically (Wafa and Ramattan News Agencies, January 19).

• January 18 : The IAF attacked Hamas headquarters (formerly the offices of the PA's interior ministry) in Gaza City (IDF Spokesman, January 18). According to Palestinian media reports, a woman was killed and several other Palestinians who had been attending a wedding in a nearby building were wounded.

• January 18 : The IAF attacked two armed terrorists in the northern part of Gaza City . The two, one of whom was a Hamas operative, were killed (Wafa News Agency, January 18).

• January 17 : The IAF attacked a vehicle carrying a terrorist operative. The Palestinian media reported that the attack killed a senior operative in the Popular Resistance Committees military wing, Raed Suleiman Abu al-Ful, and his wife. The IAF also attacked four armed Hamas operatives north of the Jabaliya refugee camp. Three were killed and the fourth wounded (Palestinian media, January 17). In another IAF attack a woman and her two sons were killed, both of them Hamas terrorist operatives (Reuters, Agence France Presse, January 17).

• January 16 : The IAF attacked rocket launchers in the Nusseirat refugee camp. The IAF also attacked a number of armed terrorists near the Karni Crossing and on the outskirts of Gaza City . In another attack the IAF struck a vehicle of Palestinian civilians tailgating the car carrying commanders of the PRC's rocket squads. In an evening attack, the IAF struck a car carrying two armed terrorists and mortars and mortar shells, killing the operatives.

Hamas’s reactions to the IDF actions in the Gaza Strip

Hamas spokesmen continued to condemn the IDF activities in the Gaza Strip Some of them even linked them to the negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit to reduce the pressure Israel is exerting on the movement . Some of the statements were the following:

• Khaled Mashal , head of Hamas's political bureau, told a press conference in Damascus that the IDF actions in the Gaza Strip would prevent any steps such as the release of Gilad Shalit or a lull in the fighting. He accused the United States and said that “George Bush is the real terrorist, not the Palestinian people, the Arabs or Muslims” (Al-Aqsa TV, January 16).

• Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha said that Hamas was still interested in a deal that would release Gilad Shalit, but warned that the continuation of the Israel actions in the Gaza Strip could “endanger his life” (Radio Sawt al-Quds, January 17). He added that all the movement's options were open, including “suicide bombing attacks.” Osama al-Muzeini , another senior Hamas official, warned that Gilad Shalit would turn into “ another figure like Ron Arad ” (Al-Aqsa TV, January 16).

• Musa Abu Marzuq , deputy head of Hamas's political bureau, said of the link between the escalation in the Gaza Strip and the negotiations to release Gilad Shalit that “there is no doubt that the Israeli acts of aggression…influence the understandings and the negotiations between the sides.” He added that “the differences of opinion within the Israel government are delaying the completion of the exchange deal between Israel and Hamas” (Al-Quds al-Arabi, January 17).

• Abu Obeida , spokesman for Hamas's terrorist operative wing, stated that he could say with certainty that Gilad Shalit was in good health but that “contacts with Israel are impossible as long as it continues its aggression. We will wait for a more suitable atmosphere before renewing contacts” (Haaretz Website, January 17).

In an exceptional act, Musheir al-Masri , a member of the Legislative Council, praised Abu Mazen for his reaction to the IDF action in the Gaza Strip. He said that he had high regard for Abu Mazen's statement but that to prove the “purity of his intentions” he had to take a braver political stand and stop the negotiations and security collaboration with the Israeli enemy, and stop pursuing and disarming the resistance [i.e. the terrorist organizations]” (Qudspress News Agency, January 16).

Counterterrorist activities in Judea and Samaria

The IDF's counterterrorist activities in Judea and Samaria continued:

• January 21 : During an Israeli security force activity in Tulkarm to detain wanted terrorists, Murad Ibrahim al-Basha, a Fatah-Tanzim operative was killed. Al-Basha opened fire at the forces slightly wounding an IDF officer who returned fire, rushed the armed terrorist and killed him (IDF Spokesman's Website, January 21).

• January 18 : During an Israeli security force activity in the Balata refugee camp in Nablus Ahmed Sanakra was killed, a senior Fatah-Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade operative. Four terrorist operatives with him at the time were detained. 7

• January 16 : Israeli security forces operating in Qabatia (south of Jenin) killed Walid Obeidi (Abu al-Qassam), a senior operative in the Jerusalem Battalions, the PIJ's terrorist operative wing. Obeidi, 42, a resident of the village of Burqin , was responsible for planning and carrying out attacks against Israel . Among them were suicide bombing attacks, including the one in south Tel Aviv on April 17, 2006 which killed 9 people. 8
The Annapolis Process

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced that the French government had transferred 24 million Euros to the PA as part of the commitments made at the Paris conference. He said that the funds were being paid directly into the PA treasury as a token of the faith of the donor states. He expressed hope that the other countries would begin transferring the sums they had promised. Following the transfer, the Salam Fayyad government began paying into the pension funds of workers in the public sector and security services (Al-Quds, January 21).

The meeting of the Annapolis rejecters in Damascus

• On January 23-25 the meeting of the terrorist organizations which reject the Annapolis process is expected to take place in Damascus . Probable speakers are Hamas leader Khaled Mashal and PIJ leader Ramadan Abdallah Shalah. Two sub-committees will be formed at the meeting, one for “Palestinian rights” and the other for national unity and the rehabilitation of the PLO (Al-Hayat, January 18). The meeting was supposed to take place around the time of Annapolis , but did not because of Syria 's participation there.
The Internal Palestinian Arena

The mud-slinging propaganda war between Hamas and Fatah continues

At the same time that a smear campaign is being waged against Israel , the propaganda war between Hamas and Fatah continues. Sayid Siyam , former Palestinian interior minister, held a press conference and read a statement from the Hamas government's interior ministry. It stated that an attempt to assassinate Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya and other senior members of the movement had been prevented. The attempt was to have been made at a ceremony to welcome the Mecca pilgrims back through the Rafah Crossing. The assassination attempt was to be carried out by a suicide bomber who would detonate a suitcase full of explosives. According to the Hamas claim, senior members of the PA, among them presidential general secretary Al-Tayib Abd al-Rahim, knew of the planned assassination (Al-Aqsa TV, January 19).

Fatah spokesmen were severely critical of the mention of al-Rahim and claimed that “the accusation is a fabrication.” Fatah-Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade stated that “the claims perpetuate the Palestinian schism” and demanded that Sayid Siyam be brought to trial for his responsibility in the deaths of more than 400 Palestinians in Hamas's bloody coup in the Gaza Strip (Wafa and Palpress News Agencies, January 19). In an unbridled attack against Siyam and Fatah's central committee called the claims “the imagination of a [sick] man and a sick movement…fiction, lies, incitement and hypocrisy are what characterize Hamas's policies…[Its] main plan is to overthrow the achievements of generations of Palestinians, to destroy the PLO through what it calls the Damascus conference…” (Wafa News Agency, January 21).

1 A summary of the first two days of the fighting can be found in our January 16 Bulletin, “Two days of hard fighting in the south: Israeli counterterrorist activities and Hamas rocket attacks (January 15-16)” .

2 On January 20 Fatah-affiliated Palpress Website reported that Hamas had stopped firing rockets on January 19 because it “feared Israel actions might kill senior members of the movement…In addition, the cessation of rocket fire expresses Hamas's desire not to influence the prisoner exchange agreement expected to be signed soon.”

3 On January 22 there was a renewed increase in the number of hits, reaching 17. Hamas did not take responsibility for the attacks although it enabled them.

4 This is the initial summary. Exact figures will appear in the Statistical Data at the beginning of February.

5 For further information see our January 16 Bulletin entitled quoted in Footnote 1.

6 For further information see our January 22 Bulletin entitled “Closing the crossings into the Gaza Strip and renewing the fuel supply – analysis as of noon, January 22, 2008.”

7 For further information see our January 20, 2008 Bulletin entitled “Israeli security forces continue uncovering terrorist networks and attack terrorist operatives in Judea and Samaria involved in planning attacks against Israeli targets” .

8 Ibid.

Thanks to Dr. Erlich and company

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