Direct rocket hit in the yard of a house in the Israeli southern city of Sderot (Sderot Media Center, March 21, 2013).
One of the two rockets that landed in Sderot (Photo by Edi Israel, courtesy of NRG, March 21, 2013).
Khaled Mashaal, Ismail Haniya and Mahmoud al-Zahar visit Egyptian general intelligence headquarters
Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdallah sign the agreement reconfirming Jordan's role in responsibility for the Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad plants an olive tree at Bab al-Shams to mark the 37th land day
Palestinian demonstrators in the Gaza Strip exploit Land Day events to approach the Israeli border
- The American president's visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority was exploited by terrorists to launch five rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory. Two of the rocket landings were identified inside Israel; one of them hit a house in the southern Israeli city of Sderot. In response Israel temporarily closed the Kerem Shalom crossing and reduced the size of the fishing zone used by Gazans. The rocket barrage was the first of its kind since the end of Operation Pillar of Defense. A network in the Gaza Strip affiliated with the global jihad claimed responsibility for the rocket fire.
- A number of Palestinians belonging to terrorist networks were apprehended in Judea and Samaria. One of them belonged to Fatah/Tanzim and its activities included throwing Molotov cocktails and shooting at Israelis. In addition, a group of young Palestinians was detained. They threw stones causing a car crash near the Judean city of Ariel in which seven Israelis were injured (one of them a three year-old girl, was critically injured).
- Hamas' Shura Council extended Khaled Mashaal's term as chairman of the movement's political bureau. While in Egypt, the Hamas leadership met with Raafat Shehata, director of Egyptian general intelligence. Among the topics discussed were the Hamas-Israel lull agreement, Hamas-Egypt relations and promoting the internal Palestinian reconciliation.
Rocket Fire into Israeli Territory
- On the morning of March 21, 2013 (the second day of President Barack Obama's visit to the Middle East) five rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip. Two hits were identified in Israeli territory; one rocket fell in the yard of a house in the southern city of Sderot, damaging the house. The other fell in an open area. A network in the Gaza Strip affiliated with the global jihad and calling itself "The Shura Council of Jihad Fighters" claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the announcement, its objective was to make it clear to the "dog of the Byzantines" (i.e., Barack Obama) that Israel would not enjoy security and that nothing would stop the jihad (Network website, March 21, 2013).
- In response, Israel's prime minister and minister of defense temporarily closed the Kerem Shalom crossing to the passage of goods into the Gaza Strip, limited the activity of the Erez crossing to humanitarian issues and reduced the size of the fishing zone used by the residents of the Gaza Strip from six to three miles (IDF spokesman, March 21, 2013). On March 28 the crossings were reopened, but so far the fishing area has not been enlarged (IDF spokesman, March 28, 2013).
- Sources within Hamas claimed they knew nothing about rocket fire and that it was an "Israeli invention." However, the security forces of the de-facto Hamas administration reportedly detained a number of Salafist operatives in the central Gaza Strip (Agence France-Presse, March 22, 2013). Nimr Hamad, Mahmoud Abbas's political advisor, said that Mahmoud Abbas condemned violence against civilians regardless of the source, including rocket fire, and that the Palestinian Authority (PA) was in favor of establishing a mutual lull in the Gaza Strip (Wafa News Agency, March 31, 2013).
- Following counterterrorism activities carried out by the Israeli security forces, members of a number of Palestinian terrorist networks that carried out attacks on Israelis were apprehended. The attacks included rock-throwing, shooting and using IEDs:
- On March 24the Israeli security forces apprehended Palestinians who threw stones near the Judean city of Ariel, causing a car crash in which seven Israelis were injured, one of them a three year-old girl who sustained critical injuries. Five Palestinian youths, aged 16-17 from the village of Haras in Samaria were detained. They admitted their guilt (NRG website, March 24, 2013). On March 25 a group of Palestinians who burned tires in the region of Beit El, north of Ramallah, was also apprehended.
- On March 28the Israeli security forces apprehended terrorist operatives belonging to a Fatah/Tanzim cell in the village of Beit Fajar (Bethlehem district). Their activities in the Gush Etzion region included throwing Molotov cocktails, firing improvised and standard guns at the Israeli village of Migdal Oz and at an Israeli bus driving along one of the roads, and laying a dummy IED near the entrance to the village. Improvised weapons and a dummy IED were found in the operatives' possession. Apprehending the operatives led to the detention of 30 additional Palestinians, all of them residents of Beit Fajar and involved in terrorist activities.
- Meeting in Cairo, the Hamas Shura Council announced it was extending Khaled Mashaal's term as chairman of the movement's political bureau. According to the announcement, the ranks of the Hamas leadership had agreed on the need for Khaled Mashaal to continue as chairman of the political bureau for another term (Filastin Al-'Aan, March 31, 2013).
- While the Hamas leadership was in Egypt, Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniya, head of the de-facto Hamas administration, met with Rafaat Shehata, head of Egyptian general intelligence. They discussed promoting the internal Palestinian reconciliation, the lull agreement with Israel and Hamas' relations with Egypt (Safa News Agency, March 31, 2013).
Egypt Preventive Activities in the Sinai Peninsula Continue
- Egypt continues its preventive activities in the Sinai Peninsula. Egyptian security sources reported that joint Egyptian army, police and security force activities prevented 25 attempts made by operatives from Hamas and networks affiliated with the global jihad and Al-Qaeda to infiltrate from the northern Sinai Peninsula to the south. When apprehended the operatives were found to have in their possession weapons, satellite communications devices, maps and sketches of vital installations in the Sinai Peninsula, and information about the locations of police and army ambushes (Al-Ra'i, Kuwait, March 24, 2013). In addition it was reported that Egyptian general intelligence had detained several Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives, which increased tensions between Egypt and the PIJ leadership (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, March 27, 2013).
- Interviewed at length by the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a member of Hamas' political bureau, denied Egypt's accusations regarding Hamas involvement in attacks against Egypt. He said that the Egyptian media were attempting to "demonize Hamas" because of its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood movement (Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, March 25, 2013).
- Salafist networks in the Gaza Strip have accused the security forces of the de-facto Hamas administration of persecuting and abducting their operatives (Quds News, March 19, 2013). In response, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that the Salafists in the Gaza Strip were free and that not one of them was in prison (Al-Monitor website, March 19, 2013).
- Meeting with senior Salafist operatives in the Gaza Strip, Al-Monitor's Osama al-Ghoul was told that many Salafists had gone from the Gaza Strip to fight in Syria because "the door to jihad in the Gaza Strip was closed and in Syria a path opened to fight the enemy." He was also told that most of those who had left the Gaza Strip had joined the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra front.
Hamas Campaign for Removal from the EU's List of Terrorist Organizations
- Hamas recently began a campaign to get its name removed from the EU list of terrorist organizations. As part of the campaign Ismail Haniya, head of the de-facto Hamas administration, said that including Hamas in the list damaged "the resistance [i.e., terrorist campaign] of the Palestinian people," despite the fact that its "resistance" was legitimate according to international law and religion. He said efforts were being made to right the "historical wrong" through the European delegations which had come to visit the Gaza Strip. However, he added, hinting at the conditions set down by the International Quartet, for Hamas recognizing Israel meant crossing "a red line," and Hamas would never relinquish any inch of Palestinian territory (Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, March 25, 2013).
Hamas Officer Training Course Ends
- Ismail Haniya, head of the de-facto Hamas administration, and Fathi Hamad, minister of the interior, were present at the graduation of a Hamas security force officers' training course held in the Gaza Strip. The ceremonies included a military display of live ammunition fired at a Magen David, its points decorated with pictures of Israeli government figures, among them the prime minister, the incoming and outgoing defense ministers and the former foreign minister (Shihab website, March 19, 2013).
Target practice at pictures of senior Israeli figures (Shihab website, March 19, 2013).
Terrorist Organization Reactions to the Visit of American President Barack Obama
- Hamaswas strongly critical of the president's visit, particularly of what its spokesmen referred to as his blatant bias in favor of Israel (Facebook page of Izzat al-Rishq, member of Hamas' political bureau, March 20, 2013). Other reactions included:
- Ismail Haniya, head of the de-facto Hamas administration, said that the objective of the visit was to strengthen Israel in view of the regional strategic changes and in view of the victory of "the Palestinian and Islamic resistance." That was being done, he said, to perpetuate the occupation of Palestinian lands and the existence of the settlements. He said the visit was also intended to delay and present obstacles to the internal Palestinian reconciliation (Al-Aqsa, March 22, 2013).
- Hamas leadership member Salah al-Bardawil responded to remarks made by Barack Obama at a press conference he held with Mahmoud Abbas. He said that the "resistance" [i.e., terrorism] was the only way to achieve "Palestinian rights," among them the liberation of land of Palestine, the return of the refugees and the release of the [terrorist] prisoners (Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, March 22, 2013).
- Hezbollah issued a condemnation of Obama's visit. It said that it marked the "heights of collaboration between the United States and Israel and America's commitment to Israel's image." It also said that remarks made by Obama showed that he was alienated from "the rights of the Palestinian people," that he adopted the Zionist project and was trying to dictate to the Arabs (Al-Ghad, March 22, 2013).
Mahmoud Abbas Visits Jordan
- On March 31 Mahmoud Abbas left for a visit to Jordan, accompanied by Mahmoud al-Batash, Palestinian minister of endowments. Mahmoud Abbas met with Jordan's King Abdallah, after which the two signed an agreement "to protect Jerusalem and the holy places." The agreement reconfirmed that Jordan would play a major role in preserving the Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem (Petra News Agency, Jordan, March 31, 2013).
Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdallah sign the agreement reconfirming Jordan's role in responsibility for the Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem (Wafa News Agency, March 31, 2013).
Hezbollah Operative Convicted in Cyprus
- A court in Cyprus found Hezbollah operative Hossam Taleb Yaacoub guilty of five of the eight charges against him. Among them were participation in a criminal organization, preparation of a criminal act [the attack on Israeli tourists] and three counts of conspiracy. He admitted he was a member of Hezbollah and that he had been trained in the use of weapons and carried out missions for the organization. The court rejected his assertion that he had no idea why his handlers had asked him to monitor the arrival times of flights from Israel and to track the locations of Israeli tourists.
- Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, who holds dual Lebanese-Swedish citizenship, was detained on July 7, 2012, by the Cypriot authorities in Limassol. According to the indictment, he came to Cyprus to collect information about the arrival of Israeli tourists. He had both a Lebanese and a Swedish passport, as well as documents indicating that he monitored the movements of Israelis on the island (Agence France-Presse and AP, July 14, 2012).
- Israel responded positively to the court's decision and called for Hezbollah to be included in the EU's list of designated terrorist organizations. According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "the application of sanctions on the organization and its terrorists, as well as enforcement, are all critical in the efforts to fight the recurrent Hizbullah terrorism on European soil and in preventing additional terrorist attacks" (Website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 24, 2013).
- On March 30, 2013, the 37th Land Day was marked in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, as well as by Israeli Arabs. This year Land Day events were relatively low-key and there were few participants (several dozen at each location). People tended to concentrate at the traditional friction points. The main demonstrations in Judea and Samaria were held in front of the Ofer prison near Ramallah and at the Qalandia roadblock north of Jerusalem.
- The PLO's Executive Committee issued a formal statement for Land Day, stressing the importance of the "popular resistance," whose objective was to put the Palestinian issue on the international and Israeli agendas. Palestinians were requested to act "with extreme national responsibility" to protect the Palestinian national project. Fatah issued a formal announcement supporting the "popular resistance" as part of Land Day, until all the Palestinian lands were "liberated" and the Palestinian refugees returned to their homes (Wafa News Agency, March 30, 2013).
- Land Day included the following events:
- In Ramallah trees were planted for shaheeds. The event was organized by the Al-Bireh municipality.
- At the Qalandia checkpoint several dozen Palestinians and leftist activists held a demonstration. According to Palestinian reports, several Palestinian demonstrators were injured by inhaling tear gas during confrontations with the Israeli security forces (Voice of Palestine Radio, March 3, 2013).
- In Bethlehem, hear the Tomb of Rachel, there were confrontations between Palestinian demonstrators and the Israeli security forces.
- At the Bab al-Shams outpost in Area E1 (Israeli territory between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim), Salam Fayyad participated in a tree-planting ceremony on March 30 (Ma'an News Agency, March 30, 2013).
Left: Palestinians youths throw stones at an Israeli Border Police jeep at the Qalandia checkpoint. Right: Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad plants an olive tree at Bab al-Shams to mark the 37th land day (Wafa News Agency, March 30, 2013).
- Hamas issued a statement for Land Day stating that the "resistance to the Israeli occupation" [i.e., the anti-Israeli terrorist campaign] would continue to be the Palestinian people's strategic choice and that any other option was doomed to failure. The Gaza Strip marked Land Day with a number of small events. In the northern Gaza Strip a demonstration was held, after which the participants planted trees. The event was exploited by Palestinians to approach the security fence in an attempt to provoke IDF forces stationed there (Palinfo website, March 30, 2013).
The Reactions of the IHH and Hamas to Israel's Apology to Turkey
- Following Benyamin Netanyahu's apology to the Turkish prime minister, Bülent Yildirim, head of the IHH (which organized the Mavi Marmara flotilla to the Gaza Strip) held a press conference. He called the apology a very important political-diplomatic success. He added that they also demanded the [so-called] siege of the Gaza Strip be lifted. As to the in absentia trial of senior Israeli figures currently being held in Istanbul, he said that the apology did not mean the legal process would be cancelled, because it dealt with international crimes and could not be stopped by a political decision. He said that even if the Israeli government paid reparations to the Mavi Marmara victims, the trial would continue (IHH website, March 22, 2013).
Bülent Yildirim's press conference (IHH website, March 22, 2013).
- Hamas and the PA rushed to congratulate the Turkish government:
- Khaled Mashaal, chairman of the Hamas political bureau, in the name of the Hamas movement and the Palestinian people, congratulated Turkey on its "victory" and "great accomplishment" of making Israel accept its terms (Website of the Hamas information office, March 22, 2013). He said in an interview that Israel's apology contradicted its usual behavior and that there was not doubt but that the Turkish leadership had forced Israel to apologize. He said that efforts to lift the "siege" of the Gaza Strip (and the West Bank) had to continue (Quds News, March 27, 2013).
- Mahmoud Abbas expressed his appreciation for the Turkish stand, saying that the Turks who were killed died for the Palestinian cause and the right of the Palestinian people to live in freedom and with respect (Wafa News Agency, March 22, 2013).
The Ahfad Yunis Outpost
- On March 20, 2013, dozens and Palestinians and foreign activists erected a new outpost called Ahfad Yunis ("the descendants of Yunis"). Its 15 tents were set up at Al-Azariya, opposite Maaleh Adumim (in area E1). According to the organizers, Ahfad Yunis is a neighborhood of the Bab al-Shams outpost established in January 2013. The activists waved the Palestinian flag and hung signs with slogans against Obama and America's support for Israel (Shihab website, March 20, 2013). Senior Fatah figures participated in the activities (Ma'an News Agency, March 20, 2013).
- According to the organizers, the outpost, which was erected on the day Barack Obama visited Israel and the PA, was meant to protest American policy, which accepts Israel's actions and annually provides Israel with military aid (ISM website, March 21, 2013). On the night of March 23 Israeli security forces evacuated the outpost without exceptional event.
The Ahfad Yunis outpost (ISM website, March 21, 2013).
Anti-American signs and slogans at the outpost (Wafa News Agency, March 20, 2013).
 As of April 2, 2013. The statistics do not include mortar shell fire.
 The statistics do not include mortar shell fire.
 Yunis is the hero of a story by Elias Houri called "Bab al-Shams."