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Israeli-Palestinian Confrontation Update May 1, 2008

News of the Israeli-Palestinian Confrontation
April 22-29, 2008
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(left) Direct hit on a house in Sderot, April 29 (Photo Zeev Tractman, courtesy of Din Veheshbon Communications, Sderot, April 29). (right)The scene of the attack at the Nitzanei Shalom industrial area, near Tulkarm (Photo courtesy of ZAKA, April 25).

Overview 
The main terrorist event this past week was the shooting attack at the Nitzanei Shalom industrial area, near Tulkarm, in which two Israeli civilians were killed. It was another example of terrorist attacks against sites where joint Israeli-Palestinian economic activities are carried out, a clear attempt to damage the interests of the Palestinian people. The high level of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip continued and the IDF continued its counterterrorist activities.

Hamas announced that an agreement had been reached in principle with Egypt regarding a gradual lull in the fighting (“ Gaza first”) which would later be extended to the West Bank . Hamas regards taking such a step as a means of having the crossings opened on its own terms, and has threatened an escalation in the violence such a lull is not achieved. In the meantime Hamas continues its media campaign to represent the situation in the Gaza Strip as on the brink of collapse, while permitting and even initiating a worsening fuel crisis to back up their campaign.

Important Events 

High level of rocket fire continues
Rocket fire into Israel continued during the past week at a relatively high, with 34 identified rocket hits. In addition, 42 mortar shells were fired. Hamas participated in the rocket fire and claimed responsibility for three of the rockets fired at Sderot on April 28, one of which hit a residence. Hamas also claimed responsibility for mortar shells fired at IDF forces near the security fence.sderot_270408.jpg
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(left)Building in Kibbutz Gevim hit on April 29 (Photo Zeev Tractman, courtesy of Din Veheshbon Communications, Sderot, April 29).  (right) A house in Sderot suffers a direct hit on April 27 (Roi Idan for www.sderotmedia.co.il, April 27).

                            Daily Distribution of Identified Rocket Hits in Israel

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             Rocket Hits during the Past Week Compared with Previous Weeks

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Two killed in shooting attack at Nitzanei Shalom

On April 25 two Israeli civilians were killed in a shooting attack at the Nitzanei Shalom industrial area near the settlement of Nitzanei Oz, close to Tulkarm. A terrorist approached the area in the morning at a time when Palestinian workers arrive at the industrial area, shot the two with a handgun and then escaped to one of the villages near Tulkarm.
 

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Shimon Mizrahi (left) and Eli Wasserman (right), shot and killed in the attack
in the Nitzanei Shalom industrial area (Ministry of Defense Website, April 25).

The two killed were the security officer of the industrial area, Colonel (Ret.) Shimon Mizrahi , 54, married and father of three, a resident of Bat Hefer, and Eli Wasserma n, 51, married and father of two, from Alfei Menashe. So far the identity of the terrorist organization behind the attack has not been definitely determined. Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad have claimed joint responsibility, but Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has also claimed responsibility.

The Nitzanei Shalom industrial area is located on the Palestinian side of the security fence and considered particularly active. It is enclosed by a barbed wire fence and there is another, older fence between it and Tulkarm. The security check of Palestinians working in the industrial area is carried out by a civilian company following instructions from Israeli security (IDF Spokesman's Website, April 25). The security arrangements at the site are currently being reevaluated.

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Firing rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israel during IDF action in Beit Hanoun
(note building in the background) (Al-Jazeera TV, April 28).

The Humanitarian Situation in the Gaza Strip 

Hamas is behind the worsening lack of fuel in the Gaza Strip

During the past week reports about the worsening lack of fuel in the Gaza Strip increased. UNRWA announced that it would stop distributing food to 650,000 Gazans because of “the lack of fuel in the reservoirs” belonging to the agency (Agence France Presse, April 24). Jamal al-Khudari , head of the Public Committee to Fight the Blockade, claimed that the lack of fuel would lead to the collapse of services in the Gaza Strip (Ma'an News Agency, April 21).

There is in fact a lack of fuel and humanitarian distress in the Gaza Strip, both of which are the result of Hamas's terrorist policies , which do not enable the normal, routine operation of the crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel and Egypt (a conspicuous example was the terrorist attack carried out last week at the Nahal Oz fuel terminal, through which fuel supplies from Israel are delivered to the Gaza Strip). The lack of fuel worsened following an announcement by the owners of fuel companies operating in the Gaza Strip that they refused to accept fuel (gasoline and diesel fuel) supplied by Israel .

So far it is unclear whether the fuel companies' refusal was coordinated with the Hamas administration. If Hamas so chooses, it can, without a doubt, compel the company owners to accept fuel from the Nahal Oz terminal and to arrange for its distribution to civilians. At a meeting held by the Hamas administration on April 27, it was decided that hold emergency consultations would be held with the fuel companies to deliver the fuel waiting at the terminal and to distribute it (Palestine-info Website, April 28). However, the Association of Fuel Companies in the Gaza Strip rejected the appeal (Reuters, April 28).

Thus Hamas permits (and perhaps even initiates) a worsening of the fuel crisis in the Gaza Strip , part of its cynical policy of using the distress of its civilians to promote its media campaign to represent the situation in the Gaza Strip as “on the brink of collapse” 3 (a claim which does not reflect the true situation). The objective of the Hamas media campaign, which has been accompanied by protest marches and demonstrations attended by civilians and by attempts to carry out terrorist attacks at the crossings , is to exert pressure on Israel and Egypt to open the crossings in accordance with conditions laid down by Hamas.

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Hamas-organized demonstration in the Gaza Strip to life the blockade
(Al-Aqsa TV, April 25).

Israel 's response

According to Colonel Nir Pres , head of the Coordination and Liaison Administration for the Gaza Strip, for the past month the Palestinians have not taken possession of the fuel delivered and do not meet necessary humanitarian and civilian needs, and thus led by Hamas create, in effect, shortages, distress and crises (Announcement from the Coordination and Liaison Administration, April 24).

The colonel added that during the past week a supply of fuel had been delivered for UNWRA following an appeal from that organization. However, the disturbances caused by the Palestinians near the terminal prevented the passage of the tanker and subsequent supply of fuel to the organization. He added that there were about a million liters [more than 264,000 gallons] of fuel in the reservoirs on the Palestinian side of the Nahal Oz terminal. He also said that Hamas was trying to create a crisis at the expense of the population by attacking the fuel and goods crossings at Nahal Oz and Kerem Shalom and by preventing the distribution of fuel for humanitarian needs while trying to exert pressure on Israel .

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Palestinian worker transferring fuel from the Nahal Oz terminal to a tanker for the Gaza Strip power station (Ismail Zavdeh for Reuters, April 23).

Hamas Agrees to a Lull in the Fighting in the Gaza Strip 

Hamas announced it agreed to a gradual lull

Hamas-Egypt contacts led to an agreement, in principle, for a gradual lull in the fighting (“ Gaza first”). On April 24, after a meeting between senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Zahar and Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian General Intelligence, al-Zahar held a press conference where he announced the main points of the agreement (Radio Sawt al-Aqsa, April 25):

•  Hamas agreed to a lull in the fighting starting in the Gaza Strip which would later be extended to the West Bank . The time frame mentioned was six months , during which Egypt would work to extend the lull to the West Bank .

•  The lull would have to be mutual and simultaneous , and would include lifting the blockade of the Gaza Strip and opening the crossings, including the Rafah Crossing. Opening the crossings would be carried out contemporaneously with the beginning of the lull. Mahmoud al-Zahar said that the principles had been agreed on [by implication, between Hamas and Egypt ], as had the commitments relating to the reopening of the Rafah Crossing in a manner that would be acceptable to everyone. 4

•  The lull would have to be approved by the other Palestinian organizations within a “national consensus.” Oman Suleiman , head of Egyptian General Intelligence, will invite the Palestinian organizations to Egypt on April 29-30 to discuss the lull with them (in the meantime there will be coordination meetings in the Gaza Strip between the smaller Palestinian terrorist organizations to prepare them for the meeting in Cairo).

•  After the agreement is reached with the various organizations, Omar Suleiman will be in contact with Israel for Israeli acceptance of the lull and to determine a time table for its implementation. Israel and Egypt will be in contact immediately to prepare public opinion for the lull and for supplying basic staples to the Gaza Strip, especially fuel.

•  Egypt will maintain contact with the Palestinian president to receive his agreement to opening the crossings. Mahmoud al-Zahar noted that Hamas was close to an agreement with the PA regarding the operation of the Rafah Crossing.

•  An agreement about Gilad Shalit , the Israel soldier abducted almost two years ago, would be postponed until after the lull had been realized. Mahmoud al-Zahar claimed that the main obstacle to the agreement was Israel 's refusal to release Palestinian terrorists who had been sentenced to long terms.

Interviewed by Al-Jazeera TV on April 27, Khaled Mashal , chairman of Hamas's political bureau said that Hamas had changed its position and agreed to a lull that would begin in the Gaza Strip and continue to the West Bank . That, he said, came following discussions and consultations between Hamas activists in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and “outside,” and was subject to the agreement of the other organizations operating in the Gaza Strip.

Senior Hamas figures repeatedly state that the lull is a way of ending the blockade on the Gaza Strip , and that if it does not prove itself, then Hamas will use force. Khaled Mashal threatened Israel saying that “if Israel does not want the lull, let it try war, we are ready.” In that case, he said, “if the blockade of the Gaza Strip continues, the Strip will erupt in the faces of those who besieged it, except for Egypt .” Khaled Mashal added that from the Hamas point of view, “the lull in the fighting is a tactic, a stage within the resistance, and nothing more.” He said that Hamas had obtained the lull from a position of power, because of “the balance of forces the resistance [i.e., the terrorist organizations] had created in the area,” which did not allow Israel to subdue the Gaza Strip (Al-Jazeera TV, April 27).

Abu Mazen supports the initiative

Following a meeting with Egyptian president Mubarak at Sharm el-Sheikh on April 27, PA chairman Abu Mazen expressed his support for the lull initiative. He said that the PA gave its unreserved support to the Egyptian efforts because the lull might ease the suffering of the Palestinian people and lead to the reopening of the Gaza Strip crossings (Wafa News Agency, April 27).
 
 
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1 Support for the IDF version, according to which the armed terrorists were operating near the residential building, can be found in an Al-Jazeera TV report (April 29). According to the report, a group of four armed Palestinians operated at a distance of about 15 meters (17 steps, according to the report) from the building's entrance. According to the report, they threw down their weapons when the IDF began shooting and one of them escaped toward the building's front door where he was hit by IDF fire.

2 For further information on the Palestinian terrorist organizations' use of human shields, see our March 6 Bulletin entitled “During the last round of escalation in the Gaza Strip the terrorist organizations again made extensive use of Palestinian civilians as human shields” .

3 Mujahid Salameh , head of the Palestinian Authority's general fuel authority, announced that at noon on April 28 Hamas militias broke into the PA's fuel storehouse and threatening to use their weapons, took over 22,000 liters (about 5810 gallons ) of diesel fuel. The announcement noted that in the past, Hamas militias commanded by the political leadership, had commandeered large quantities of fuel from hospitals and medical centers and taken it to their own warehouses, “with no regard for the needs of the civilian Palestinians in the Gaza Strip” (Ma'an News Agency, April 28).

4 Hamas claims that the Rafah Crossing must be a Palestinian-Egyptian crossing . Khaled Mashal suggested that it would be inspected by Egypt , Hamas, the Palestinian and the Europeans (on condition that the Europeans arrived from Egypt and not Israel , and that they had no say in its opening and closing). He stated that “it is out of the question, Israel must not be given any control over the crossing…” (Al-Jazeera TV, April 22). The outcome of this formula will be an improvement in Hamas's capabilities to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip through the Rafah Crossing.
 
   

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