News of Terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (May 18-26, 2009)

Rocket from the Gaza Strip hits a house in Sderot

Rocket from the Gaza Strip hits a house in Sderot

Photo: Noam Badin for the Sderot Media Center , May 19, 2009

Photo: Noam Badin for the Sderot Media Center , May 19, 2009

Rocket and mortar shell fire since the end of Operation Cast Lead

Rocket and mortar shell fire since the end of Operation Cast Lead

Rocket from the Gaza Strip hits a house in Sderot
Rocket from the Gaza Strip hits a house in Sderot
(Photo: Noam Badin for the Sderot Media Center, May 19, 2009).


 This past week a rocket hit a house in the southern Israeli city of Sderot . It was the first time since the end of March that a rocket hit was identified there. In addition, terrorist squads detonated an IED and opened light-arms fire on an IDF patrol along the border security fence with the Gaza Strip. In response, the Israeli Air Force attacked two installations for the manufacture of weapons in Gaza City and four tunnels near the Rafah crossing. In its public statements and through its lack of response, Hamas signaled it was not interested in escalation.

 On May 19 a Palestinian Authority transitional government headed by Salam Fayyad was sworn in under the shadow of the failure of the latest round of internal Palestinian reconciliation talks in Cairo and Mahmoud Abbas’s May 28 visit to Washington . Hamas severely criticized the new government, calling it illegal and claiming that the only legal government was the administration headed by Ismail Haniya.

Important Events

The Gaza Strip

Rocket fire

 During the past week there was one rocket attack. On May 19 a rocket hit a house in the southern city of Sderot . Two people were treated for shock and the house was damaged. It was the first rocket hit identified in Sderot since March 31.

Photo: Noam Badin for the Sderot Media Center , May 19, 2009
Rocket from the Gaza Strip hits a house in Sderot

(Photo: Noam Badin for the Sderot Media Center , May 19, 2009).

 After the attack, Hamas posted a notice on its websites claiming that an Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas’s military-terrorist wing) squad was responsible. Later, the name of the organization was removed from the posting and it was stated that the rocket had been fired by the �Palestinian resistance.� A site identified with Fatah reported that the attack had been carried out because of conflicts between Hamas’s interior minister and Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades commanders (Al-Alamiya website, May 25, 2009).

Rocket and mortar shell fire since the end of Operation Cast Lead

Rocket and mortar shell fire since the end of Operation Cast Lead

IED used to attack IDF forces

 On May 22 an IED was detonated to attack an IDF patrol two kilometers northeast of the Karni crossing. There were no casualties and no damage was done. The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility (Abu Ali Mustafa website, May 22, 2009).

 On the same day two armed Palestinians were identified three kilometers northeast of the Kerem Shalom crossing. They used light arms to open fire on an IDF force, which returned their fire, killing them both. Palestinian sources reported that the two were Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives from Rafah (Jerusalem Battalions website, May 22, 2009).

Israeli Air Force response

 On May 19, in response to the rocket fire, the Israeli Air Force attacked two installations for the manufacture of weapons in Gaza City , one in the Zeitun neighborhood and the other in Tufah. Palestinian sources reported that six Palestinians were injured, one seriously. Among the injured were Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades operatives (PalMedia website, May 9, 2009). Later the Israeli Air Force attacked smuggling four tunnels near the Rafah crossing; no casualties were reported.

Hamas continues its policy of rocket fire restraint

 Hamas and the other terrorist organizations reacted to the Israeli Air Force retaliatory strikes by representing them as Israeli escalation. However, they refrained from a response on the ground which might lead to a deterioration of the situation. Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas’s military-terrorist wing, justified the lack of Hamas response by calling rocket fire just one of the tactics employed by the �resistance� [i.e., the terrorist organizations] and saying it was not the only means available to the Hamas movement. He said that the �resistance� reserved the right to use all �legitimate� means in a way that would serve the [interests of] the Palestinian people.

 The activity on the ground and the statements in the Palestinian media indicate that Hamas continues its policy of restrained rocket fire into Israel . An Islamist network calling itself the Army of the Nation accused Hamas’s internal security service of having detained four of the group’s operatives engaged in military activity east of Khan Yunis, and demanded their release. The Hamas interior ministry, to which the internal security service is subordinate, denied the report, claiming no such organization existed 1 (Ma’an News Agency, May 21, 2009).

 Terrorist organization spokesmen, when asked about the continued rocket fire into Israel , stated they would not hesitate to react to Israeli activity but refrained from threatening a deliberate escalation:

•  A Popular Resistance Committees spokesman said that the �resistance� was prepared to struggle against Israel and that any Israeli escalation could be met with �showers of rockets from the entire Gaza Strip� (Muqawamah website, May 21, 2009).

•  Abu Awad, senior figure in Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades network, said that rocket fire into Israel would continue as long as Israel continued its activities against the Gaza Strip. He said that the extent of the response would depend on the scope of the attack (Qudsnet website, May 25, 2009).

•  A spokesman for the Jerusalem Battalions, the military-terrorist wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad , said that the organizations would increase their attacks as soon as conditions made it possible (PalToday website, May 20, 2009). 

Increase in attempted stabbings in Judea and Samaria

 During the past week there were a number of attempted stabbings and incidences of stone throwing:

•  May 21 : A young Palestinian woman went to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron with a knife, apparently intending to use it to attack a border policeman. A security examination conducted by a border policewoman on a different Palestinian woman revealed a similar knife. Both knives were confiscated and the women were transferred to the Israeli police.

•  May 21 : A Palestinian woman went to the Bir Zeit checkpoint, north of Ramallah, drew a knife and tried to stab a soldier. The knife was confiscated and the woman was detained and transferred to the Israeli security forces.

•  May 20 : A knife was found in a body search of a Palestinian man at the checkpoint near the Cave of the Patriarchs. The man was transferred to the Israeli police.

The Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead

The crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip

 During the past week deliveries of humanitarian assistance continued into the Gaza Strip through the Israeli crossings. A daily average of 100 trucks crossed the border. 

The tunnel industry

 The smuggling activity in the tunnels continues to claim Palestinian victims. On May 23 Hamas informed the Egyptian security forces that three Palestinians were missing on the Egyptian side of the Egypt-Gaza border. The three were rescued by the Egyptians and taken for interrogation (Reuters, May 23). The same day the bodies of two young Palestinian men were found in the ruins of a tunnel in Egyptian Rafah (Ma’an News Agency, May 23, 2009). On May 22 a Palestinian was reported electrocuted in one of the tunnels (Ma’an News Agency, May 22, 2009). On May 21 nine Palestinians were injured in a fire which broke out in one of the tunnels used to smuggle fuel into the Gaza Strip (Ramattan News Agency, May 21, 2009).

 The Egyptian security forces continue their activities to prevent smuggling from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. On May 16 they uncovered a weapons store in a hilly region in central Sinai. It contained 170 anti-tank missiles, five mortar shells, and a number of shells and IEDs (Bar Misr portal, May 20, 2009). On May 22 they confiscated 400 kilograms of explosives earmarked for smuggling into the Gaza Strip; the explosives were discovered in two locations near the border (Al-Masri Al-Youm, May 23, 2009).

 On May 18 the World Tribune reported confrontations between the Bedouin tribes in Sinai over control of the smuggling tunnels. According to one source, the tunnel industry has led to an appreciable increase in land values near the Gaza Strip border. The article reported that there were about approximately 1200 tunnels in the Egyptian Rafah area.

The Internal Palestinian Arena

The internal Palestinian dialogue

 The fifth round of talks in Cairo ended without a breakthrough. The Egyptians pressured both sides to reach an agreement by the beginning of July. On May 19 the daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda reported that Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian general intelligence, had expressed frustration over the intransigence displayed by both sides. According to Palestinian sources, Suleiman told them that �the world will not wait for [them] forever to achieve unity.� Interviewed on May 21 by the Middle East News Agency, Hossam Zaki, spokesman for the Egyptian foreign ministry, hinted that Egypt was not pleased with the foot-dragging at the dialogue and that a target date of early July had been set. He said that the �dialogue itself is not an objective, but a means to achieve reconciliation and understanding.�

 In response, Hamas rejected an agreement imposed by Egypt which would lead to its making concessions. The editor of Hamas’s Felesteen responded to the news that Omar Suleiman had set a deadline by saying that he was not worthy of sponsoring the dialogue and that no agreement would be imposed. He said that anyone who wanted to sponsor the dialogue had �to have patience, not be in a hurry, not be hysterical or full of anger. He has to be neutral and treat both sides the same way� ( Felesteen , May 18, 2009).

The Palestinian Authority establishes a new government

 On May 19, 2009, a new Palestinian government headed by former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (who continues as both prime minister and finance minister) was sworn in. The government is composed of 20 ministers, eight from Fatah, four representing other secular factions, and eight independents. More than half of them are new. The Palestinians view the new government as anemic and without the power to make genuine changes, although Salam Fayyad’s status at home and abroad remains stable. 2 Hamas strongly condemned the establishment of the transitional government, stating that the steps taken by Mahmoud Abbas were illegal and represented a capitulation to American and Israeli pressure. It also stated that the only legal Palestinian government was the one headed by Ismail Haniya.

The Northern Arena

The German Der Spiegel reports Hezbollah behind the murder of Rafiq Hariri

 On May 23 the German weekly Der Spiegel reported that Hezbollah was behind the murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, who was killed on February 14, 2005. The report was based on information in the hands of the judges of the United Nations special tribunal investigating the murder. The information came from the findings of the Lebanese security forces headed by Captain Wissam Eid (who was killed in a terrorist attack in the Beirut suburb of Hasmiyah on January 25, 2008, an attack, according to Der Spiegel , apparently intended to slow down the investigation).

 The article gave proof of Hezbollah’s involvement in the murder: the cell phone number used by the hit team belonged to Hezbollah’s special forces unit; a Hezbollah operative named Abu al-Majid Ghamlush from the village of Rumin, north west of Nabatiyah, who had undergone military training in Iran, was identified as the buyer of the mobile phones for the hit squad (he has since disappeared and may no longer be alive); a small Mitsubishi truck used in the attack belonged to a Hezbollah operative. The investigators now believe that the attack was masterminded by Hajj Salim, who replaced Imad Moughnieh and is subordinate to Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah and directed by Qassem Suleimani (commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force, the Iranian regime’s primary tool for exporting the revolution beyond Iran ‘s borders).

 Hassan Nasrallah and other senior Shi’ite figures in Lebanon strongly criticized the Der Spiegel article and rejected its findings:

•  Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed it was fabricated and part of a �conspiracy� against Hezbollah. He said the �Zionists� and Der Spiegel were blaming Hezbollah for Hariri’s murder to ignite a civil war in Lebanon between Shi’ites and Sunnis, with an eye to the upcoming general elections to the Lebanese Parliament, set for June 7 (Al-Manar TV, May 25, 2009).

•  Hezbollah issued a statement claiming the article was a fabrication meant to influence the Lebanese elections and to overshadow news dealing with the exposure of Israeli spy networks. The article was also intended, claimed Hezbollah, to damage its status and influence, and it called for the international tribunal to �take strong measures against those spreading these vicious lies� (Al-Manar TV, May 24, 2009).

•  Nawaf al-Musawi , in charge of Hezbollah’s international relations, criticized the article and claimed that the accusations directed against Hezbollah were intended to ignite a civil war in Lebanon , primarily between Sunnis and Shi’ites (Interview with BBC TV, May 24, 2009).

•  Fawzi Saluh , Lebanese foreign minister, having met with the Syrian foreign minister, claimed that the information published by Der Spiegel was false and baseless (Syrian News Agency, May 24, 2009). Nabih Berri , chairman of the Lebanese Parliament and head of the Shi’ite Amal movement, claimed it was an attempt to ignite a civil war in Lebanon (Al-Nishra website, May 24, 2009).

Hezbollah relates to Israeli home front exercise Turning Point 3

 Between May 31 and June 4 Israel will hold a home front exercise called Turning Point 3. Its scenario will include rocket attacks from different directions accompanied by terrorist attacks throughout the country. Civilians, government offices, local authorities and schools will be asked to practice entering sheltered areas and conduct in emergency situations.

 Hassan Nasrallah and other Hezbollah spokesmen related at great length to the planned exercise, exploiting it to make political capital in the campaign for the Lebanese Parliament currently underway. That was done by adding current events to Hezbollah’s political messages, especially by representing Israel as a �threat� to Lebanon and Hezbollah as Lebanon ‘s �shield,� and by blaming the Lebanese government of helplessness in the face of Israel ‘s actions . (In that way Hezbollah seeks justification for the buildup of its military infrastructure.)

 Nasrallah referred to the exercise in a speech on May 18, one of a series of pre-election speeches he has given. He referred to it again in a speech at a mass rally on May 25. The main points of his May 18 speech were the following (Al-Manar TV, May 18, 2009).

•  The nature of the Israeli exercise : It will be the largest exercise held in the history of Israel (the �Zionist entity�), and will be carried out by the new Israeli government. The exercise, one of a long series, will simulate a large-scale rocket attack against Israel carried out simultaneously by Iran , Syria , Lebanon [i.e., Hezbollah] and the Gaza Strip.

•  The possible objectives of the exercise , according to Nasrallah: with regard to morale, to restore the IDF’s faith in its commanders and the people’s faith in the army and government; in the realm of defense, to improve Israel’s capabilities and preparedness to cope with the dangers threatening its national security; with regard to deterrence, to send the message to Iran, Syria, Lebanon and �Palestine� that Israel is strong and has military capabilities (�the message to Iran is that Israel will not be tolerant when it comes to nuclear weapons�); with regard to Israel’s aggressive capabilities, Hassan Nasrallah claimed that it could not be ruled out that Israel was preparing for a new sudden strike, although it was unlikely and Hezbollah had no information to support such a view.

•  Criticism of the Lebanese government : Hinting at his opponents, Nasrallah said that there were those who claimed that the exercise was of no interest to Lebanon and that Hezbollah wanted to create an atmosphere of confrontation with Israel before the elections. In response, he again noted that the exercise was relevant to Lebanon and called upon the government to formulate �national policy� regarding it. He claimed that the Lebanese government had not studied the issue, had not related to it and had not instructed the army or Lebanese people how to act regarding it.

•  Hezbollah’s policy toward the exercise : Nasrallah ended his speech by saying that Hezbollah intended to �take as series of careful, defensive steps during the exercise to prevent any security or military action whatsoever against Lebanon .� An Israeli attack was unlikely but it was �Hezbollah’s duty to be prepared for the worst possible scenario and to prevent a surprise [attack].� 3 In his May 25 speech, Nasrallah said that Hezbollah would be on high alert and warned Israel not to do �anything foolish� and enter Lebanon .

•  The Lebanese government, in all probability prompted by Hezbollah and in response to its accusations, issued a statement to the effect that it had appealed to UNIFIL regarding the Israeli exercise. It has expressed its apprehension of the objectives of the exercise and their implications for the stability of Lebanon and the entire region, and requested UNIFIL to guarantee that Israel would not violate Lebanon ‘s sovereignty. The statement added that UNIFIL headquarters had reported the objective of the exercise as defensive, without aggressive intentions (Al-Manar TV, May 21, 2009).

1 �The Army of the Nation� was officially established in 2006 and is affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad. Its activities increased after the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.

2 For further information see our May 19, 2009 bulletin �New Palestinian Authority Government Headed by Salam Fayyad (Initial Report)�.

3 The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar , which has good access to Hezbollah, reported that the organization’s leadership had issued directives to all its military and logistic units to be on the alert ( Al-Akhbar, May 19, 2009.)