Rocket and mortar shell fire into Israeli territory
Rocket Fire 2010, Monthly Distribution
The bodies of those killed in the tunnel from toxic gas (Palestine-info, April 29, 2010)
The western Negev was quiet this week as well. Shooting incidents continue against IDF soldiers engaged in routine security activity along the border.�
Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, announced that the proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians were expected to begin soon. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is expected to arrive in the region.
Preparations continue for a flotilla of aid to the Gaza Strip, which is supposed to include at least eight ships. The Hamas administration is repairing the Gaza port for the arrival of the flotilla and plans to send over 100 boats for a welcome ceremony. The flotilla and the welcome are planned to gain widespread media coverage.
This week, the State Security Court in Egypt issued long prison sentences to operatives of the Hezbollah group exposed in Egypt. The group was involved in smuggling weapons to Hamas in the Gaza Strip and planned a series of attacks in Sinai. Hezbollah leaders condemned the Egyptian court�s decision.
Rocket and mortar shell fire
This past week the quiet in the Gaza Strip continued, and no rocket or mortar shell hits were identified in Israeli territory.
During the week, small arms fire was opened several times on IDF soldiers engaged in routine security activities near the border fence. There were no injuries. The military wing of the PFLP claimed responsibility for one of the shooting attacks (the military wing�s website, April 28).
On April 28, a demonstration was held near the security fence in the Gaza Strip. The demonstrators started a fire and threw stones at an IDF force on the scene. IDF forces shot in the air in order to remove the demonstrators from the area (IDF Spokesman, April 28). According to Palestinian reports, one youngster was moderately injured while trying, along with other youngsters, to hang Palestinian flags on the fence (Pal Today, April 28).
Palestinian media reported that an explosion which occurred west of Khan Yunis killed one man, causing moderate injuries to three others. The explosion apparently occurred due to a mortar shell or rocket fired from a training facility, which missed and landed near a residential building (Fatah Forum, Ma’an News Agency, May 3).
Rocket and mortar shells fired into western Negev population centers 1
Monthly distribution of rocket fire in 2010
* This only refers to hits detected in Israeli territory. A similar number of rocket
landings was detected in the Gaza Strip territory in the same period of time.
Judea and Samaria
Israeli security forces continued counterterrorist activities in which several dozen terrorist suspects were detained and weapons were confiscated. Meanwhile, clashes continued during violent protests in different sites in Judea and Samaria.
At the same time, stones continued to be thrown at Israeli vehicles; following are some major events:
May 2�Stones were thrown at an Israeli bus southwest of Bethlehem. There were no casualties. The bus was damaged (IDF Spokesman, May 2).
May 1�Stones were thrown at an Israeli vehicle southwest of Bethlehem. There were no casualties and no damage was caused (IDF Spokesman, May 1).
April 29� Stones were thrown at several Israeli vehicles northwest of Hebron. There were no casualties. Three vehicles were damaged (IDF Spokesman, April 29).
April 28�an Israeli civilian was lightly injured when his vehicle crashed into a stone barricade laid on the road southeast of Nablus. The vehicle was damaged. On the same day, stones were thrown at an Israeli bus north of Hebron. There were no casualties. The bus was damaged. Also, stones were thrown at an Israeli vehicle southwest of Bethlehem (IDF Spokesman, April 28).
Developments in the Gaza Strip
The flotilla to the Gaza Strip�update
According to a recent report, the pro-Palestinian organizations’ flotilla of aid to the Gaza Strip is scheduled to set sail on May 24. The Free Gaza organization, with Turkey�s IHH, are working to coordinate all the humanitarian organizations to take part in the flotilla. One of the organizations expected to take part in the flotilla is the Malay Perdana Global Peace organization,2 which is probably supposed to send one cargo ship. The European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza (ECESG) will send two cargo ships. Sent as part of the flotilla will be cargo ships containing construction materials, medical equipment, and educational supplies (school bags etc.) (Free Gaza website, April 29).
The cargo ships will be escorted by at least five passenger ships with over 600 people on board. The passengers escorting the flotilla will include parliament members from various countries, UN officials, human rights activists, and labor unions activists. They will be accompanied by journalists who will document the attempt to deal with �Israel�s illegal blockade on the Gaza Strip� (Free Gaza website, April 29). In the Gaza Strip, the Hamas administration prepares to receive the international flotilla, including deepening and cleaning the local fishing port.3
Al-Quds TV (affiliated with Hamas) dedicated a program to the flotilla, in which it interviewed several activists involved in its organization. Their main statements follow (Al-Quds, May 3):
Hani Suleiman, portrayed as the coordinator of a �Lebanese-Palestinian brotherhood ship�, said that the first ships to take part in the flotilla would embark on May 10 from Ireland and Sweden towards Greece, where they would rendezvous with the Turkish ships and depart for the Gaza Strip.
Jamal al-Khudari, the chairman of the Popular Committee against the Siege, said that the ships would arrive in the Gaza Strip in June and that the committee prepared a welcome of over 100 fishing boats, with media and public officials on board, to go out to sea and welcome the ships.
Yasser al-Shanti, the director of the Gaza port repairs project, said that the repair works begun in March 2010 were under way and that the second phase of the project, which included deepening the berth, had started.
Referring to the flotilla, John Ging, the UNRWA chief in the Gaza Strip, said in an interview to Norway�s Aftenposten that the international community had to focus on assistance to the Gaza Strip like the flotilla bringing aid by sea, rather than just publish statements on what needs to be done. He further added that he believed Israel would not dare confront the ships coming from Europe (euro-muslim.com, May 4).
Four Palestinians killed in a tunnel, probably due to inhaling toxic gas
Palestinian media associated with Hamas reported that four Palestinians choked to death in a tunnel in Shati refugee camp, in southwestern Rafah. According to the report, the victims descended into the tunnel where Egyptian security forces had deployed toxic gas, choking them to death (Al-Resalah.net; Al-Aqsa TV; Hamas forum, April 28, 2010).
Hamas publicly blamed the Egyptians for their deaths:
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri announced that �Hamas blames the Egyptian side for the deaths of the civilians in Rafah and demands to promptly bring those responsible to trial�. He said that the four people were killed as a result of the toxic gas deployed by Egyptian security forces (Al-Aqsa TV, April 29, 2010).
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum referred to what happened in the tunnel as a �cold-blooded murder� and a �crime committed by the Egyptian apparatuses against innocent Palestinian workers�. Barhoum called on Egypt to explain its position and investigate the circumstances of the �crime� (AP, April 29, 2010).
The Hamas administration Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip announced the establishment of an inquiry committee to investigate the deaths of the four Palestinian civilians in the tunnel. The Hamas Interior Ministry called on Egypt to establish a committee of its own and to cooperate with the Hamas committee (the Hamas Interior Ministry website, May 2, 2010).
The bodies of those killed in the tunnel from toxic gas
(Palestine-info, April 29, 2010)
The Peace Process
Resumption of proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced on April 30 that the proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians would begin during the week. The talks will include contacts by the Americans with both sides without direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Clinton added that the US hoped the talks would lead to direct negotiations between the two sides. She also said that US Middle East envoy George Mitchell would arrive in the region next week and would be an intermediary during the negotiations (AP, April 30, 2010).
The Arab Monitoring Committee which met on April 30 decided to support the indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Saeb Ereqat, the head of the PLO negotiating department, held a press conference with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa after the Arab Monitoring Committee meeting. Ereqat announced at the press conference that the Palestinians would not agree to a state with temporary borders and that if Israel built even just one out of the 1600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo (northern Jerusalem), it would terminate the negotiations before they even started.
PA Chairman Abu Mazen gave an interview to CNN during his visit to Abu Dhabi. Following are his main statements:
The government of Israel: The Israeli government is radical and stubborn. The Palestinians will stop the negotiations if Israel builds more settlements.
Issues to be discussed in the negotiations: We worked hard to convince the Israeli government to withdraw from all territories and to solve the problem of Jerusalem and the refugees.
American guarantees: The U.S. government gave the Palestinians guarantees that there would be no provocations (from Israel) during the talks. Only after receiving the guarantees did the Palestinians agree to negotiations coordinated by the Arab League (CNN, May 3, 2010).
The reaction of Hamas
�A senior Hamas source� condemned the Arab Monitoring Committee�s support of renewing the negotiations. He said the resumption of negotiations despite all of Israel�s violations was surrendering to Israel�s policy of �creating facts on the ground� (Palestine-info, May 2, 2010).
The State Security Court in Egypt issued prison terms (some of them long) to operatives of a Hezbollah group exposed in Egypt in April 2009
On April 28, the State Security Court in Cairo, Egypt, issued sentences to 26 operatives of a Hezbollah network. The network was planning to perpetrate attacks against tourist sites and groups of Israeli tourists in Sinai, and to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip for Hamas.
Judge Abd Abdallah Salam Jum�ah convicted the network operatives of espionage, membership in a terrorist organization, and assisting Hamas. The network operatives had come to Egypt from Lebanon and Sudan, some of them being Palestinians. Four defendants, including gang leader Mohammad Qablan, were sentenced to life in prison, but all four managed to escape to Lebanon before being arrested and therefore the sentences were given in absentia. The network commander Sami Shihab was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The other network operatives were sentenced to six months to ten years.
Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon strongly condemned the court�s decision:
Hezbollah secretary-general Nasrallah described the detainees as �brothers, men of resistance, and noble jihad warriors�, and not �outlaws, bandits, and terrorists� as they were called by the Egyptian court. He said that their only sin was �helping their brothers in the Gaza Strip and the legitimate Palestinian resistance�, and that all the other things said about them were untrue, stories designed to back up the legal proceedings against them (Al-Akhbar, Al-Nashra website, April 29, 2010).
Kamel al-Rifa�i, a member of the Hezbollah faction in the Lebanese parliament, said that the trial was not criminal but rather political. He also said that the Egyptian court, through the trial and the political sentences, wanted to make the Egyptian people think that the defendants were involved in terrorist activities, when in fact their job was to send weapons, money, and supplies to �our besieged brothers in the Gaza Strip�. The Egyptian court dealt with the issue through a narrow viewpoint, without taking into consideration the feelings and goals of those youngsters (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, April 29).
Egypt announced the exposure of the network in April 2009; however, according to the official newspaper Al-Ahram (April 9), the network had started operating as early as in 2007. According to Egyptian and Arab media reports, the network was involved with smuggling weapons and funds to the Gaza Strip, transferred to Hamas through the Rafah tunnels. The weapons were intended to reach the Gaza Strip through Sudan and Egypt (Al-Hayat, April 9, 2009). In addition, the network operatives planned a series of attacks against targets in Cairo and Sinai, including sites where Israelis often stay. The network operatives were involved in the establishment of commercial projects as a cover for their activities, gathering intelligence for terrorist attacks (including surveillance on tourist sites in northern and southern Sinai), acquiring apartments in the Egyptian part of Rafah and in Al-Arish, and tracking shipping traffic through the Suez Canal. The network operatives contacted criminal elements in Egypt to forge Egyptian documentation so that they could leave Egypt and rent a hideout (Egyptian TV, April 8, 2009). Some of the network operatives used the cover of Hezbollah�s Al-Manar TV channel (Al-Masri al-Youm, April 10, 2009).4
1 The statistics do not include the mortar shells fired at IDF soldiers patrolling the border fence which fell inside the Gaza Strip.
2 An organization whose goal is to end war and achieve world peace. It was established by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who served as the prime minister of Malaysia in 1981-2003. The organization operates in various conflict zones in the world, including the Israeli-Palestinian arena.
3 See our May 3, 2010 Information Bulletin: �According to the Free Gaza organization, the flotilla of aid is expected to leave for the Gaza Strip on May 24. At least three cargo ships and five passenger ships will take part in the voyage. The Hamas administration makes preparations to receive the flotilla�.
4 See our April 13, 2009 Information Bulletin: �Egypt exposes a Hezbollah network on its soil, claiming it not only smuggled weapons into the Gaza Strip but also planned to carry out terrorist attacks and subversion activities. Hassan Nasrallah admitted a detained Hezbollah operative was involved in smuggling but denied other accusations�.