Ehud Olmert’s convoy arriving in Jericho on August 6, 2007. The meeting was heavily
guarded after information had been received that there was a planned attempt on his life
(Loay Abu Haykel for Reuters, August 6).
1. At the government meeting held on Sunday, October 21, 2007, Israeli Security Agency chief Yuval Diskin revealed that the PA had released three previously detained terrorist operatives belonging to a squad which had planned to assassinate the Israeli prime minister. The attack was to have been carried out during the prime minister’s late June visit to Jericho . The visit was cancelled (apparently for political reasons) and rescheduled for August 6.
2. The details of the affair are the following:
1) At the end of June 2007 the ISA gave the Palestinians the names of the members of a terrorist squad who were planning to attack Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The attack was to be carried out at a meeting with PA Chairman Abu Mazen scheduled for the end of June in Jericho . That meeting was not held, but as a result of the information reinforced security measures were in place for the prime minister and his entourage during his August 6 visit to Jericho .
2) Following the information given to the Palestinian security forces by Israel , they detained three terrorist operatives . Two other members of the squad were detained by the Israeli security forces. Two of those detained by the Palestinians belonged to the National Security Force and the third served in General Intelligence. Two of the three were also members of Fatah-Tanzim.
3) The terrorist operatives who were detained admitted that they had planned to shoot at the prime minister’s convoy . Nevertheless, all three operatives held by the Palestinians were released on September 26 when the investigation ended. The Palestinians issued contradictory versions of their release: Palestinian "security sources” told a journalist from the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that they had been released "by mistake,” and that once the mistake had been realized they were again detained. On the other hand, Palestinian "political sources” claimed that the three had been released because they hadn’t had a serious plan for carrying out the attack ( Ha’aretz , October 22).
4) The terrorist squad was composed of armed members of the Palestinian security forces with easy access to Jericho . They were supposed to be part of the PA’s outer security ring along the road leading to Jericho or around the Intercontinental Hotel, the destination of Olmer’s convoy ( Yediot Aharonot , October 22).
3. Ha’aretz reported that last Friday, October 19, the Palestinian security forces again detained two of the three terrorist operatives previously released . According to the same report, Israel detained the third terrorist previously in Palestinian hands. The PA allowed Israeli newsmen to hold short interviews with the two terrorists currently imprisoned in Jericho , in our assessment, in an attempt to deflect Israeli accusations. The two, Muhammad Gharouf and Muhammad Hamdan, were interviewed by Ha’aretz and Yediot Haaharonot reporters and as expected, denied Israel ‘s version ( Ha’aretz , Yediot Aharonot , October 22).
4. High-ranking Fatah, Palestinian security force and PA responses to Israel ‘s accusations were generally unreliable and full of gross contradictions . Some completely denied the existence of a plot to assassinate the prime minister, while others tried to minimize the severity of the issue. Some (including the heads of the Palestinian security forces) admitted that three members of the terrorist squad had been detained, adding that two were still in custody, while glossing over their release and redetention, typical of the PA’s revolving door policy under Arafat. 1
5. The main responses follow:
1) Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad , before meeting with Israeli Knesset Chairman Dalia Itzik, told Israeli journalists that the three suspects detained by the PA had been released after an interrogation lasting three months because no evidence was found against them. However, a few minutes later, meeting with her alone, he told her that he had ordered the two be detained again last Friday, October 19, after learning about the incident for the first time. Fayyad admitted that "it was a mistake, it was a failure of our systems” ( Ha’aretz , Ma’ariv , October 22). His remarks were not quoted by the Palestinian media.
2) On October 21 General Tawfiq al-Tirawi, head of Palestinian General Intelligence , told the Palestinian news agency Wafa that the members of the squad were still in custody and being investigated . He added that the affair should not be used as an excuse to delay Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Interviewed by Agence France Presse on October 21, he stated that two men had been detained and were being interrogated and that the investigation was continuing. Head of Palestinian Military Intelligence Brigadier General Majid Faraj claimed that the men who had been detained were innocent of the accusations made against them. He said that two were still in custody and that the third had been released because no evidence had been found against him (Ma’an News Agency, October 21).
3) Fatah spokesman Ahmad Abd al-Haman denied everything the head of the ISA had said. He said that "the story is a fabrication intended to cast doubts on the efforts made by Fatah and President Abu Mazen to achieve a just peace between the Palestinian people and the Israeli people.” He called upon all the media "to stop dealing with this lie” (Wafa News Agency, October 21). Fatah/Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade issued a blanket denial of the entire affair (PalPress News Agency, October 21).
4 ) Yasser Abd al-Rabbo, secretary of the PLO’s executive committee , also claimed that "the Israelis fabricated the event to harm the peace process.” He stressed that the PLO was determined to keep to the peace process. He added that even if it were proved that operatives from Jericho had planned to assassinate Olmet, which he claimed was not true, Israel did not have to punish the entire Palestinian people (Voice of Palestine Radio, October 21).
6. When Israel learned of the release of the three terrorists it contacted the PA though political and security channels and protested the affair, which was a return to the revolving door policy prevalent under Arafat. In addition, important Israeli figures have not entered Jericho and the areas under full PA control since the end of September.
7. On October 21 a foreign ministry spokesman said of the affair that Israel had spoken to the Palestinian leadership on a number of occasions about the rush release of the suspected terrorists by the Palestinian security forces, which the Israelis call the revolving door. He added that Israeli Foreign Minister Tsippi Livni had also spoken about it with her American and Palestinian interlocutors. Ha’aretz reported that last Friday (October 19), during a meeting of the negotiation team held in Jerusalem , Israel lodged a formal protest with the PA concerning the release. The previous day the Israeli foreign minister had told Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad that "the return of the revolving door policy harms Israel ‘s ability to trust the Palestinian side.”
8. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent a similar message to United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week ( Ha’aretz , October 22). Interviewed on the plane to Paris he said that the PA’s release of the terrorists involved in the affair could not be overlooked. However, he added that he did not intend to allow the incident to affect negotiations with the Palestinians or his meetings with Abu Mazen (Ynet, October 22). A "high-ranking political figure close to the prime minister” said: "I consider it a very serious matter. The affair makes us additionally very apprehensive about the general condition of the Palestinian Authority as a partner. The release of those who planned the assassination does not make add to trust between the two parties in the political process” ( Yediot Aharonot , October 22).
1 According to the revolving door policy prevalent under Arafat, terrorists were detained by the PA to give Israel and the United States the false impression that genuine measures were being taken to prevent terrorism. Most of the detainees were released after a short period of time once a superficial interrogation had been conducted and without their preparations for terrorist attacks having been foiled.