A firefighter extinguishing a car in Sderot set on fire by a rocket (Amir Cohen for Reuters, May 19)
A firefighter among the ruins of a school in Sderot hit by a rocket (Gil Cohen for Reuters, May 17
1. The rocket attack on Sderot and the settlements around the Gaza Strip, initiated by Hamas and joined by other terrorist organizations, entered its sixth day. So far 132 rocket hits have been identified, about half of them in the Sderot region. The number of hits of the past three days has decreased in relation to the first two. The force of the clashes between Fatah and Hamas has also waned in recent days.
2. The IDF continues to respond with pin-point attacks on terrorist targets, chiefly air force strikes. Most often hit are squads launching rockets, lathes for the manufacture of rockets and weapons, and Hamas Executive Force headquarters and bases. Several dozen terrorist-operatives were killed in the strikes. Hamas and the other terrorist organizations threatened to escalate the rocket fire in retaliation, to hit Ashqelon as well and to carry out suicide bombing attacks inside Israeli territory.
3. Within the internal Palestinian arena, Hamas� rocket attack is a clear attempt to turn attention from the internal confrontation and distress to the confrontation with Israel . In that respect Hamas has achieved its goal, in that the attacks on Sderot and the settlements around the Gaza Strip continue, while the internal clashes wane. The latest round of confrontations was also intended to signal the international community that Hamas would not continue to accept its political-economic isolation and would not hesitate to escalate its terrorist campaign against Israel .
A house in Sderot hit by a rocket ( Photo courtesy of the Israeli Police Department)
The remains of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad Qassam rocket lying on a road. It bears the inscription �al-Quds� in Hebrew, spelled incorrectly (Photo courtesy of the Israeli Police Department)
4. Over the weekend the rocket and mortar attacks which began on May 15, targeting the western Negev settlements, continued. During the past three days there has been a decrease in the number of rockets launched as compared with the previous two days. Since May 152 a total of 132 rockets has been fired, about half of which were aimed at the Sderot region. Most of the attacks were carried out by Hamas, and some of them by other terrorist organizations (Fatah, the Popular Resistance Committees, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad).
Hamas rocket launcher aimed at Israel (Al-Aqsa TV, May 18).
The rocket attack: daily distribution of identified hits�
5. The Israeli casualties so far: One civilian woman was critically wounded, three were badly wounded, 12 were slightly wounded and about 60 were treated for shock. Two IDF soldiers were slighted wounded by an anti-tank missile on May 19. A number of residential buildings in Sderot were damaged, as were a gas station, a school and a synagogue. Some of the local residents left the city for short vacations organized for them.
The political response
6. On May 20, after consultations and assessments, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, in collaboration with the Israeli Prime Minister, announced a �special situation� in the region of Sderot and the settlements around the Gaza Strip. It was an administrative and legal step which gave the IDF�s home front command and military authorities additional powers related to the civilian population (for example, opening or closing schools or other civilian institutions). The special situation will be in force for 48 hours, after which the defense minister can ask the government for an extension.
7. Foreign Minister Tsippi Livni discussed the issues with the UN Secretary General, telling him that Israel was not willing to come to terms with the rocket attacks. She also conferred with the Egyptian, Canadian, British and German foreign ministers. The media have reported that the Foreign Ministry is formulating a plan for stationing an international force along the Philadelphi route in Rafah, which would operate in coordination with the Egyptian force stationed there to prevent arms smuggling from the Sinai into the Gaza Strip (Haaretz, May 20).
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visits Sderot
(Photo courtesy of the Israeli Government Press Office, May 17)
The IDF�s response
8. Over the weekend the IDF continued its attacks, primarily from the air, on terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip, carrying out 13 strikes. Tanks also fired shells at rocket launching areas in the southern Gaza Strip. Several dozen terrorist-operatives were killed.
9. The Israeli Air Force focused on the following targets:
A. Headquarters, positions and bases, especially those belonging to Hamas� Executive Force : The Executive Force headquarters in the Rimal quarter of Gaza City on May 17; an Executive Force guard post in the Sheikh Radwan quarter on May 17; Hamas posts in Dir al-Balakh and close to the Karni crossing on May 18.
B. Lathes for manufacturing rockets and rocket launching squads on May 16, 17 and 19.
C. Vehicles carrying terrorist-operatives and weapons on May 16, 17 and 20. Imad Shabana , who manufactured rockets for Hamas, was critically injured when weapons in his car exploded in one of the attacks in the Sheikh Radwan quarter on May 17.
A lathe attacked by the Israeli Air Force (Al-Aqsa TV, May 19)
Declarations from the terrorist organization spokesmen
10. Following the IDF attack, spokesmen from Hamas and other terrorist organizations threatened to escalate the terrorist campaign against Israel , including suicide bombing attacks. They again called for an end to the internal Palestinian confrontation and for attacks to be turned against Israel :
A. In Damascus, Khaled Mashaal , head of Hamas� political bureau, called for the organization�s operative to stop their internal confrontations and to turn the �struggle� against Israel . In response to a question about suicide bombing attacks, he avoided answering directly, saying that the decision to carry out such actions rested with the Hamas forces in the field (Al-Aqsa TV, May 17).
B. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that Hamas would change �the rules of the game� and that from now on its operatives would �communicate� with rocket fire, car bombs and all the means they possessed (Radio Sawt al-Aqsa, May 18).
C. Abu Obeida , a spokesman for the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas� terrorist-operative wing, said that Hamas would carry out other actions, including rocket fire aimed at Ashqelon , �to send stronger messages� (Pal-media Webside, May 17, and the Palestinian News Agency, May 18).
D. Spokesmen for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad said that they had many options open to them for responding to Israel �s actions, including suicide bombing attacks (Pal-media Website, May 17). The PIJ also said that if the IDF entered the Gaza Strip, dozens of female suicide bombers would be willing to blow themselves up (Saraya al-Quds, May 20).
E. A flyer distributed by one of the Fatah/Al-Aqsa Martyrs� Brigades factions said Israel should expect a return of suicide bombing attacks in its territory. The flyer also called for the rocket fire to continue, saying that �there were no red lines� in the actions against Israel (Al-Shura News Center Website, May 18).
The internal Palestinian arena
11. Over the weekend the internal Palestinian confrontations waned, although they did not cease entirely . On May 18 three Palestinians were killed in exchanges of fire. Among them were Khaled Abd al-Raziq, the commander of a Hamas artillery unit. One of the confrontations� focal points on May 19 was the Islamic University in Gaza City , known as a Hamas stronghold. Since the confrontations began, nearly 70 operatives have been killed, most of them from Fatah and the security forces, and some of them from Hamas. A number of civilians were also killed in the crossfire.
12. The violence was accompanied by abductions on both sides. For example, on the evening of May 18 Hamas operatives abducted Abd al-Salam Abu Asqar, a Palestinian journalist, director of the Abu Dhabi TV channel in the Palestinian Authority and a confidant of Muhammad Dahlan. He was abducted close to his home, questioned by his abductors and released two hours later.
The release of Abu Dhabi TV�s director (Al-Jazeera TV, May 19)
13. PA chairman Abu Mazen canceled his visit to the Gaza Strip, fearing for his personal safety. His aides claimed that the cancellation came after a plot to assassinate him was exposed. He was to have been killed by a bomb placed under a road he would use.
A map of showing a detailed Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades plan to assassinate Abu Mazen upon his arrival in the Gaza Strip (Pal Press Website, Ma�an News Agency, May 18)
14. On the afternoon of Saturday, May 19, the fifth ceasefire between Hamas and Fatah went into effect. According to the Egyptian-brokered agreement, representatives of the rival organizations and of the Egyptian security team in the Gaza Strip would go through the streets of Gaza City, taking town roadblocks manned by armed men and evacuating armed men from the buildings they had taken over. A short time after the ceasefire went into effect, Hamas operatives attacked the vehicle of a General Intelligence officer affiliated with Fatah, who managed to escape the assassination attempt. Nevertheless, the situation has calmed down somewhat, including a start at evacuating armed men from streets, roadblocks and roofs.
The propaganda war continues
15. At the same time, the propaganda war continues:
A. Musheir al-Masri, a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, viciously attacked Fatah�s security forces, accusing them of collaboration with Israel . He said there was no place for collaborators �who lay on the beaches of Tel Aviv and [frequented] the bars of Kfar Saba, those who come out of the bars of Sharon, Olmert, Peretz�� He again claimed that Israel and the United States were supporting Muhammad Dahlan and his men in an effort to distance Hamas from the government (Al-Aqsa TV, May 18).
B. Palestinian deputy prime minister Azzam al-Ahmad told foreign correspondents in Ramallah that Hamas�s military wing should be disarmed to stop the current violence in the Gaza Strip. He accused Hamas� military wing of executions which have pushed the Palestinians to the brink of civil war.