News of Terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict March 17-24, 2009

Lev Hamifratz shopping mall

Lev Hamifratz shopping mall

Photo by Alex Rozkovsky

Photo by Alex Rozkovsky

Weekly Distribution of Rocket and Mortar Shell Fire Since Operation Cast Lead

Weekly Distribution of Rocket and Mortar Shell Fire Since Operation Cast Lead

Express Grill in Ramat Gan

Express Grill in Ramat Gan

An effigy of Gilad Shalit in the solidarity tent

An effigy of Gilad Shalit in the solidarity tent

PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad

PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad

Al-Alam TV, March 18, 2009

Al-Alam TV, March 18, 2009

Lev Hamifratz shopping mall

  Photo by Alex Rozkovsky

Mass-casualty attack prevented. Left: The Lev Hamifratz shopping mall near Haifa. Right: The parking lot where the car bomb was parked (Photo by Alex Rozkovsky, reprinted courtesy of nrg, March 22, 2009).


 This week events focused on an attempted mass-casualty attack at the Lev Hamifratz shopping mall near Haifa , where a car bomb was left in a parking lot. The identity of the organization behind the attack is still not clear. Had the attack succeeded, it would have caused many casualties. This week as well the trend toward a decrease in the number of rocket and mortar shell attacks against the western Negev continued.

 At a government meeting held on March 17, the prime minister announced the failure of the latest round of Egyptian-mediated talks for the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. According to the statement issued after the meeting, Hamas remains inflexible and demands the release of the original list of 450 prisoners, among them senior terrorists whose release is liable to cause serious damage to Israel ‘s security. Hamas blamed Israel for the failure of the negotiations but did not rule out their renewal, although it denied it would make any change its basic demands.

Important Events


Attempted mass-casualty attack near Haifa

 On the evening of March 21 an explosion was heard in the parking lot at the entrance to the Lev Hamifratz shopping mall near Haifa . Police found a car containing a number of explosive charges which had not detonated. The charges, which weighed dozens of kilograms, were disabled by demolition experts.

 So far the identity of the organization behind the attempted attack is not known. A network calling itself �the Galilee Freedom Fighters,� which in the past falsely claimed responsibility for various attacks, claimed responsibility for this one as well (in our assessment, falsely). Hamas denied any involvement. Ayman Tahe, senior Hamas figure in the Gaza Strip, said that Hamas supported �the heroic action,� adding that Hamas would be proud to have been responsible for it (Al-Alam TV, March 22, 2009 ).

The Gaza Strip

Significant reduction in rocket and mortar shell fire targeting the western Negev

 The trend in the decrease in rocket and mortar shell fire into Israeli territory continues . During the past week no rockets were fired , while three mortar shells were fired at IDF forces operating along the border security fence. IDF forces were also attacked with light arms fire. Hamas’s Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades claimed responsibility for the mortar shells fired on March 22 (Al-Qassam website, March 22, 2009 ).

Weekly Distribution of Rocket and Mortar Shell Fire since Operation Cast Lead

Weekly Distribution of Rocket and Mortar Shell Fire Since Operation Cast Lead

Attacks continue in Judea and Samaria

 During the past week attacks involving stones and Molotov cocktails continued. On March 18 two Molotov cocktails and a burning tire were thrown at an Israeli vehicle east of Ramallah. There were no injuries but the vehicle was damaged. On March 19 stones an Israeli vehicle was stoned near the community of Teqoa, south of Hebron . There were no injuries but the vehicle was damaged. On the same day a number of Israeli vehicles were stoned in the Hebron area.

Six years imprisonment for the terrorist who tried to poison food at an Israel restaurant

 On March 18 the military court in Samaria handed down a sentence of six years for Ihab Abu Riyal from the Balata refugee camp in Nablus for having tried to poison the food at the Express Grill in Ramat Gan early last year. 1 The accused, who worked in the restaurant for three years, and a co-worker planned the attack. The two intended to use an odorless white poison whose effect would be felt hours later so that they could kill as many people as possible. The accused and his co-worker initiated contact with a Fatah/Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades operative who was supposed to bring them the poison. They agreed to accept it from the organization, which would claim responsibility for the attack, saying it had been carried out in retaliation for the death of Imad Moughnieh (IDF Spokesman’s website, March 18, 2009 ).

Express Grill in Ramat Gan
The Express Grill in Ramat Gan where the two planned to poison the food

(Photo courtesy of Israeli Channel 10 TV, April 10, 2008).

The IDF security forces detain senior Hamas activists who tried to rebuild the Hamas infrastructure in Judea and Samaria

 During Israeli security force activities on the night of March 18, ten senior Hamas activists in Judea and Samaria who belonged to the movement’s leadership in Judea and Samaria were detained, among them four Hamas members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. They had recently been involved in rebuilding the Hamas infrastructure (IDF Spokesman, March 19, 2009 ).

 The wave of detentions was condemned by Hamas . Salah al-Bardawil, spokesman for the Hamas faction in the Palestinian Legislative Council, said that Israel wanted to abduct Palestinians and hold them as hostages until Gilad Shalit was released. He added that Israel was taking away prisoners’ privileges and preventing their families from visiting them, which was their natural right (BBC Radio, March 19, 2009 ). In another interview he said that Hamas might increase its demands for the release of Gilad Shalit in protest against the detention of the members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and senior Hamas figures in the West Bank (QudsNews website, March 19, 2009 ). The Palestinian Authority also condemned the detentions, saying that their objective was to sabotage the internal Palestinian dialogue (Wafa News Agency, March 19, 2009 ).

The Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead

The crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip 

 During the past week humanitarian aid continued flowing through the crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip, with an average of more than 100 trucks a day.

The Rafah crossing

 On March 18 the Rafah crossing opened for the passage of Palestinians to and from the Gaza Strip and Egypt . Hamas was angry that Egypt had not coordinated the opening with it or sent an official announcement. According to Hamas, the Egyptians allowed Palestinians who organized their passage with the Palestinian Authority to use the crossing at the expense of �civilians who have to pass through.� However, on March 18 Hamas issued a statement to the effect that the crossing’s opening would be coordinated with the Egyptians (Hamas interior ministry website, March 18, 2009 ).

 On March 21 the Rafah crossing closed. A senior Egyptian official said anonymously that it would be closed for an unlimited period of time and that only patients and Palestinians with humanitarian problems would use it. During the three days it was open about 800 Palestinians entered the Gaza Strip and 200 left for Egypt (Reuters, March 21, 2009 ).

Hamas Smuggles Money into the Gaza Strip

 On March 17 the Egyptian security forces at the Rafah crossing detained two Hamas activists found carrying $850,000 hidden in candy boxes . The two, Muhammad Jneida and Ahmed Hajaj, were returning from Egypt participating in the internal Palestinian dialogue. Eventually they were released and the money was impounded by the Egyptians. The delegation, which was on its way home to the Gaza Strip, also smuggled in a generator and night-vision equipment (AP, March 17, 2009 ).

 Note : On February 5, 2009 , the Hamas delegation on its way back to the Gaza Strip after talks in Cairo was also delayed and searched by the Egyptian security forces. In the possession of senior Hamas figure Ayman Taha $9 million and two million euros in cash were found . The money was deposited in a bank account in Egypt and Ayman Taha was released. After a number of weeks Egypt authorized the transfer of the funds to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas to UNRWA: We Control the Gaza Strip

 A visit paid by the secretary general of the Islamic Committee to the Gaza Strip was arranged with UNRWA and not with Hamas, and provoked Hamas’s anger. Following the incident Mustafa al-Soaf, editor of Felesteen , the Hamas daily newspaper, wrote an article called � The agency (UNRWA) � between assistance and politics .� Its main points were the following ( Felesteen , March 18, 2009 ):

•  Apparently, according to the article, UNRWA has forgotten that its real mandate is to help the refugees and instead has begun to act as a government within a government. UNRWA has been encouraged to do so by the [international] quartet. The time has come for the Hamas government to show UNRWA what its limits are, and instruct the organization to focus on fulfilling its original function.

•  UNRWA interprets the leeway given it by the Hamas government as weakness, or as a sign that the Hamas government is afraid of the UN. However, that is not the case, proof of which is that the government enables visitors to enter the Gaza Strip and is responsible for their safety, including the safety of UNRWA.

•  Hamas examined the complaints against UNRWA, according to which it and other aid organizations discriminate in the distribution of aid by giving preferential treatment to certain sectors. That means that UNRWA, on which people depend for humanitarian assistance, does not fulfill its role and infringes on the Gazans’ rights. UNRWA does not own the aid which reaches the Gaza Strip but is only the liaison between the donors and the needy.

 Since Operation Cast Lead there have been reports to the effect that Hamas channels civilian aid to its own people, or to groups affiliated with it, while depriving its opponents and preventing them from receiving assistance. The article in Felesteen is an attempt to divert fire toward UNRWA while making it clear that Hamas is in control of the Gaza Strip, and that UNRWA’s job is limited to humanitarian aid, nothing more. 

The Tunnel Industry

 The media reported that the Egyptian security forces continue their activities to prevent smuggling under the Egypt-Gaza Strip border. On March 20 a cache of weapons was discovered in the Rafah region, including half a ton of TNT, a number of rockets and automatic weapons (Ilaf website, March 20, 2009 ). On March 19 the security forces uncovered two tunnels in which were food, drugs, spare parts and electrical equipment, all meant to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip (Middle East News Agency, March 19 or 20 not 10). On March 20 and 21 four additional tunnels were uncovered ( Al-Yawm Al-Sabaa , March 21). On March 23 the Al-Yawm Al-Sabaa website reported that Egypt had recently increased its forces in the tunnel region to cope with smuggling activity.

The Diplomatic Front

Negotiations for the Release of Gilad Shalit

Israel Announces the Failure of the Latest Contacts to Secure His Release

 On March 17 the Israeli government held a special meeting to hear a report from Israel Security Agency chief Yuval Diskin and prime minister envoy Ofer Dekel about the results of the Egyptian-brokered negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit. They reported that Hamas was unwilling to be flexible, had reneged on past written understandings, and continued to demand the release of all 450 prisoners on its original list.

 According to a statement issued by the prime minister’s office, the identity of some of the prisoners on Hamas’s list had been revealed at the meeting. Israel refused to release some of them but agreed to release others on the condition they would not return to Judea and Samaria . (Numbers were not mentioned in the government’s statement. According to a March 18 Haaretz article by Barak Ravid , Israel agreed to release 325 prisoners , 144 of whom it demanded be deported to the Gaza Strip or abroad.) According to the statement, a sample list of prisoners was presented to the government meeting, demonstrating that Israel was ready to be flexible regarding the high price paid for Gilad Shalit’s release, but it had its limits, dictated by the government’s commitment to prevent grave damage to the country’s security.

 The statement also noted that according to security assessments, if Israel were to release all the murderers demanded by Hamas, grave damage would be done to the country’s security (including the rebuilding of the strategic terrorist networks and the return to the field of senior terrorist �engineers� who orchestrated the most murderous terrorist attacks known in the history of the State of Israel). It would also deal a severe blow to the pragmatic elements in the region and provide significant reinforcement for extremist elements.

Portrait of a Mass Murderer

 Abbas Muhammad Mustafa al-Sayid , senior Hamas operative, is on the list of prisoners Israel refuses to release. He headed Hamas’s military-terrorist network in Tulkarm and was responsibility for a series of deadly attacks in Israeli cities. They included a suicide bombing attack in Netanya in 2001 which killed three civilians and wounded 55, a suicide bombing attack in the Hasharon shopping mall in Netanya in 2001 which killed five and wounded 74, and the suicide bombing attack at the Park Hotel in Netanya on the night of the religious Jewish Passover Seder in April 2002, which killed 29 and wounded 64. Abbas al-Sayid, who was responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis, regards himself as in the front rank of Hamas leaders in Judea and Samaria . 2

Hamas reactions to the Israeli announcement

 Hamas and other terrorist organizations again blamed Israel for the failure of the negotiations . However, Hamas spokesmen did not reject the possibility of renewing them , although they stated that their basic demands would not change:

•  Usama al-Muzeini , senior Hamas figure, said he welcomed the prospect of French mediation in the Gilad Shalit deal, and that it was still possible to renew the negotiations ( Filastin al-Yawm , March 23, 2009 ). In another interview he said that Hamas would adhere to the list of 450 prisoners it had given to Egypt . He said that Hamas opposed any change in the list which would leave many prisoners in Israeli jails who had been sentenced to long terms, even if it meant that the deal would be aborted (PalMedia website, March 23, 2009 ).

•  Musa Abu Marzuq , deputy head of Hamas’s political bureau in Damascus, said that the Egyptian-brokered negotiations had not ended, and that ��as long as there are Palestinian prisoners and one Israeli prisoners, understandings for exchanging them must be reached�� He called on Israel �to meet its commitments� regarding the 450 prisoners on the Hamas list (BBC Radio in Arabic, March 22, 2009 ).

•  Ismail Haniya , prime minister of the Hamas de-facto administration, blamed Israel for the failure of the last round of talks, but added that �our people still seek to renew the negotiations brokered by Egypt to reach a respectable deal which will make it possible to exchange the relevant prisoners�� ( Felesteen , March 22, 2009 ).

•  Ayman Taha , senior Hamas figure, told BBC Radio in Arabic that the issue of the negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit was still open, but rejected the possibility that Hamas would make any concessions. He said that Hamas’s position regarding the list of 450 prisoners was final and that Israel had to meet its demands.

 At the same time, Hamas initiated a media campaign to demonstrate the �popular support� for its demands, especially support from the families of the prisoners, and to exert psychological pressure on Israel . Hamas’s prisoners’ affairs ministry erected a �solidarity tent� to show its respect for the prisoners’ families (Felesteen, March 23, 2009 ). According to media announcements from the tent, senior Hamas figures and prisoners’ families asked Hamas not to change its demands for the release of the prisoners sentenced to long prison terms in Israel (PalMedia website, March 22, 2009 ).

An effigy of Gilad Shalit in the solidarity tent
An effigy of Gilad Shalit in the solidarity tent (Al-Aqsa TV, March 22, 2009).

 Senior Hamas figures sent Israel direct and indirect threats : Usama al-Muzeini said that Hamas would continue its efforts to release its prisoners and would abduct other Israeli soldiers (Al-Qassam website, March 18, 2009 ). Musheir al-Masri , a Hamas spokesman, warned that Gilad Shalit’s fate might be like that of Ron Arad, 3 and that Israel would bear the responsibility (Al-Alam TV, March 23, 2009 ). Dr. Hassan Abu Hashish , head of the ministry of information in the Haniya administration, sent an open letter to the Shalit family mentioning the Ron Arad affair ( Felesteen , March 22, 2009 ). Khaled Mashaal told an Australian newspaper that if Israel refused to release the prisoners, the Palestinians would have to take other steps, including taking other Israeli soldiers prisoner ( Sydney Morning Herald , March 20 2009 ).

Israel Prevents a Palestinian Authority-Initiated Political Event

from Taking Place in Jerusalem

 On March 21 the Palestinian Authority began an event called � Jerusalem � the city of Arab culture, 2009 .� The PA planned to organize parades, rallies and sports events in the villages in East Jerusalem . Israel , however, did not permit them, according to the law which prevents events from being held in Jerusalem if they have clearly political and not necessarily cultural significance. Border guards and police stopped the activities from taking place in institutions in East Jerusalem and schools in the area. In addition, the police also prevented a rally from taking place on the Mount of Olives and detained Hattam Abd al-Qadr, the PA prime minister’s advisor for Jerusalem affairs, who was present at the time (Ma’an News Agency, March 21, 2009 ).

 The main event, at which Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas spoke, was held in Bethlehem . It was attended by Arab cultural ministers, writers and artists (Ma’an News Agency, March 20, 2009 ). Mahmoud Abbas appealed to the Palestinian people to protect the nature of Jerusalem as the capital of � Palestine .� He also said that unless the building in Jerusalem and the settlements stopped, there would be no chance to hold serious negotiations [with Israel ], and that the internal Palestinian dialogue was the most important issue on his current agenda (Wafa News Agency, March 21, 2009 ).

PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad
PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad
at a ceremony in Bethlehem (Palestinian TV, March 21, 2009 ).

Hamas Members Meet European Parliamentarians

 On March 18 senior Hamas figures met in Damascus with a delegation of Greek and Italian parliamentarians. After the meeting Hamas’s deputy representative in Lebanon, Ali Barake , said that Hamas intended to visit several European countries to which it had been invited. He added that it was the second delegation which had come to Damascus to talk to Hamas in a week [the first delegation of parliamentarians and politicians having arrived on March 14]. He claimed that showed that the European Union was �examining its policy towards the movement.� He also said that Hamas was forming relations and a dialogue with the EU �since it seems that they are divided over the American attitude toward the Palestinian cause� (QudsNews website, March 18, 2009 ).

Al-Alam TV, March 18, 2009
Greek and Italian parliamentarians meet with Khaled Mashaal (Al-Alam TV, March 18, 2009).
The map on the left-hand side of the poster on the back wall symbolizes the control
of the Palestinians over all � Palestine ,� with no room for Israel .

 Riadh al-Maliki , foreign minister in the Palestinian Authority government, warned the European countries not to lift their boycott of Hamas before the internal Palestinian reconciliation agreement had been signed. He said that Hamas might receive the impression that the international community was willing to change its position toward the movement, even if no agreement were reached (Reuters, March 23). In another interview, al-Maliki retracted his statements and said he had meant that the focus now had to be on completing the internal Palestinian dialogue, and that he did not think that talks Hamas held with the European countries would cause damage once the Palestinians had joined ranks (Ma’an News Agency, March 23, 2009 ).

The Internal Palestinian Arena

A round of talks between Fatah and Hamas ends

 On March 19 another round of talks between Fatah and Hamas ended in Cairo . According to the final announcement, progress was made on many issues, but there were still three which needed more time: the government’s fundamental positions, the PLO’s jurisdiction and electing the Palestinian Authority’s institutions. To that end the delegations returned home to consult with their leadership and formulate clear positions (Al-Jazeera TV, March 19, 2009 ). Musa Abu Marzuq, deputy head of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus , said that the Fatah-Hamas dialogue would be renewed on March 25, after which representatives from the other Palestinian factions would participate (PalMedia website, March 21, 2009 ).

 Main issues still in debate are Fatah’s demand to have the PLO recognized as the exclusive authority, and commitment to previous agreements made by the PLO. Hamas, which has strong ideological and political objections, is trying to circumvent the issue with vaguely-worded phrases. Asked why Hamas insisted on only �respecting� the PLO’s basic positions and refused to accept them, Musa Abu Marzuq, deputy head of the Hamas political bureau, said that Hamas refused to be obligated by commitments the PLO had taken on itself, because they included a recognition of Israel . He added that the issue currently on the agenda was establishing a government which did not recognize the PLO’s commitments to Israel (Al-Iraqiya TV, March 19, 2009 ).

Founding the National Islamic Bank in the Gaza Strip

 As part of its efforts to strengthen its control over the Gaza Strip, and as part of the process of Islamization which has accelerated since Hamas took control, the National Islamic Bank recently opened. It operates according to the principles of Islam and received religious support from clerics in the Gaza Strip, who encourage Gazans to open accounts in the new bank. It is the first bank to receive an official work permit from the Hamas de-facto administration.

 On March 21 Hamas’s Felesteen printed a question in its religious edicts corner. The question was directed to Dr. Maher Ahmed al-Sussi , the assistant dean of the Shari’ and Law department of the Islamic University in Gaza City and member of the Palestinian Council of Religious Sages. The individual asking the question said that he had opened an account at a non-Islamic bank and signed a form waiving his rights to interest on his account [interest is forbidden by Islamic religious law]. He wanted to know if that was permissible, adding that he preferred a non-Islamic bank because of the terrible way he was treated and the errors made by the new [Islamic] bank. Dr. Al-Sussi answered that being badly treated by the Islamic bank did not justify opening an account at a bank that took interest, and that opening an account with such a bank, even if the owner of the account did not profit from it, was still considered collaboration with the bank. He said that what the individual had done was forbidden and that he had to close his account with the non-Islamic bank immediately.

 The Palestinian Authority responded to the establishment of the Islamic bank by calling on Palestinians to patronize only banks authorized by the Palestinian monetary fund and not the National Islamic Bank, which, according to the PA, was unsupervised . Riyadh Abu Shahadeh, director of bank supervision at the Palestinian Monetary Fund, said that no one had requested authorization to run a bank, and that such authority could not be given by the government, whether the Hamas government or the Palestinian Authority government (BBC Radio in Arabic, March 23, 2009).

Has Hamas tried to learn lessons from Operation Cast Lead?

 During the past week a meeting was held in Cairo , attended by senior members of the Hamas movement from the Gaza Strip, members of its military-terrorist wing, members of the �external leadership� in Damascus and representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt . The objective of the meeting was to discuss the situation of the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead.

 During the meeting many differences of opinion surfaced, especially between representatives of the military-terrorist wing and the Muslim Brotherhood, who accused the wing of responsibility for the movement’s condition in the Gaza Strip, based on reports of its violent behavior toward the civilian population. The Muslim Brotherhood representatives expressed their apprehension at what the reaction of the population in the Gaza Strip might be in view of the methods used by Hamas operatives to enforce their authority. 4 It was decided to appoint an internal committee to investigate the events in the Gaza Strip and for Hamas to draw the necessary conclusions.

Giant signs in Ramallah say �No� to Iranian involvement

 On March 20 the Ma’an News Agency website reported that Palestinians were surprised to find signs at the entrance to Ramallah calling for Iran to stop intervening in the Palestinian cause . The signs were bluntly anti-Iranian, reading �No, and a thousand times NO to Iranian intervention in the independent Palestinian decision.� They were signed by an organization calling itself �the Jerusalem Youth Association.� A Ma’an News Agency reporter added that similar signs were hung on the inner streets of Ramallah as well and that there were others in the same style calling for the end of Syrian and Qatari intervention.

�No, and a thousand times no to Iranian intervention in the independent Palestinian decision�

1 For further information see our April 13, 2008 bulletin entitled � The Israeli security forces exposed two Palestinians from Nablus who admitted they planned to poison the food .�

2 For further information about the attack at the Park Hotel, see our May 2004 bulletin entitled �Passover Eve Massacre at Park Hotel in Netanya� at .

3 An Israeli navigator shot down over Lebanon in 1986. His whereabouts are unknown and he is presumed dead.

4 For further information about how Hamas oppresses those who oppose it, see our February 12, 2009 bulletin entitled �Oppression of Hamas Opponents in the Gaza Strip� at .