Israeli Palestinian Confrontation Update June 25, 2008

Written by IICC


June 26, 2008
News of the Israeli-Palestinian Confrontation June 17-24, 2008

On June 24 at 4 p.m. the Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired three rockets at Sderot, violating the agreement for a lull in the fighting. The event was the lull arrangement's first test case , and illustrated the need for Hamas to enforce it on the other Palestinian terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip. Hamas's senior activist Mahmoud al-Zahar, who participated in the contacts leading to the lull arrangement, said that Hamas would not directly confront the other terrorist organizations but that those who violated the arrangements would be dealt with by legal authorities; Hamas's readiness to impose the implementation of the lull arrangement will now be put to the test.

In Judea and Samaria , which are not included in the arrangement, terrorist attacks and Israeli security forces' counterterrorist activities continue. Notable this week was the shooting attack northwest of Ramallah, in which three hikers were wounded. On the other hand, Israeli security forces killed a PIJ operative and the armed terrorist accompanying him during counterterrorist activities in Nablus . High-ranking PIJ figures said that they would respond to the killing of their operatives and did so by firing rockets at Sderot, despite the fact that Judea and Samaria are not included in the lull arrangement . 
Important Events
The Gaza Strip
The lull arrangement which went into effect on June 19, was violated by the Palestinians after five days of calm. At 4 p.m. on June 24 three rocket hits were identified in and around Sderot and two women had to be treated for shock. The PIJ claimed responsibility for the attack, in our assessment in response to the killing of its operatives in Nablus (See below), despite the fact that Judea and Samaria are not included in the arrangement . A previous violation occurred shortly after midnight , June 24, when a mortar shell was fired into Israel territory, landing in an open field without causing damage. No organization claimed responsibility for the attack.   
In the two days before the lull went into effect, intensive rocket and mortar shell fire targeted the population centers in the western Negev : there were 35 identified rocket hits and 9 mortar shells fired between June 17 and 19. 

Judea and Samaria 

Shooting attack near Neveh Tsuf, northwest of Ramallah

On June 20, five Kiryat Arba residents hiking in Wadi Zarka (northwest of Ramallah) were shot at by two terrorists. Three of the hikers were wounded, one critically. They sought cover and alerted rescue forces, which arrived within half a hour. The IDF searched the region but so far the terrorists have not been found (Ynet, June 20). Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for the attacks (Ma'an News Agency, June 20).

The shooting attack occurred one day after the lull arrangement went into effect in the Gaza Strip; Judea and Samaria are not included in it. It was another example of a shooting attack targeting Israelis hiking in Judea and Samaria : on December 28, 2007 two off-duty IDF soldiers, Ahikam Amihai and David Rubin, both Kiryat Arba residents, were killed while hiking in Nahal Telem near Hebron .

Counterterrorist Activities 

The Gaza Strip

Since the lull arrangement went into effect (at 6 a.m. , June 19), the Israeli security forces have refrained from carrying out counterterrorist activities in the Gaza Strip.

On June 23, the Palestinian media claimed that an elderly farmer was seriously wounded by IDF fire in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip (Wafa News Agency, PalMedia website, June 23). The IDF is investigating the claim. 

Judea and Samaria

During an Israeli security forces activity in the Rafidia neighborhood of Nablus on June 23, Tareq Juma'a Ahmed Abu Ghali , 25, was killed resisting arrest. He was a Jenin resident and a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative .

In January 2008 Tareq Abu Ghali headed a terrorist squad plotting a car bomb attack which was prevented by the Israeli security forces. He also manufactured explosives and explosive devices, directed terrorist squads in the Jenin district and recruited suicide bombers. He was also planning an attack for the near future (IDF Spokesman, June 24).

A large quantity of weapons was found in his home, including explosive devices, a Kalashnikov rifle, ammunition and military equipment (IDF Spokesman's website, June 24). Another armed terrorist was hiding in the apartment and was also killed in an exchange of fire with the IDF forces (Ynet, June 24). The Palestinians claimed that he was a student at Al-Najah University in Nablus , and that the two had not been armed (Pal-Press, PalMedia Websites, June 24).

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad threatened that the killing of its operatives would not be without “a painful reprisal” and that the “resistance” (i.e., terrorists) which had taken a unified stance regarding the lull would now take a stance regarding the events in the West Bank (Nidaa al-Quds Website, June 24). PIJ spokesman Abu Hamza said that the organization would retaliate immediately to every “Israeli violation” of the agreement 1 (Qudsnet Website, June 24). Hamas spokesmen said that the “resistance” in the West Bank had the right to respond to IDF activity but that Hamas stressed that it would continue its commitment to the lull and called upon the relevant parties to exert pressure on Israel to keep it from operating in the West Bank (Palestine-info website, June 24).

Renewing contacts for the lull arrangement

On June 24 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh. Newspaper reports quoting “a member of the prime minister's entourage” said that Israel had received promises that the Rafah crossing would not reopen until the matter of Gilad Shalit was settled. A member of the entourage said that the issue of smuggling weapons from Sinai into the Gaza Strip was discussed at length and that the Egyptians had promised to make every effort to stop it. The visit was reported as positive and the Egyptians were reported as anxious to do everything they could to support the continuation of the lull arrangement (Roni Sofer for Ynet, June 24).

Ofer Dekel, the prime minister's envoy for matters relating to abducted Israelis, is expected to leave for Egypt on June 26 to meet with Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian intelligence, to renew negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit. Through Egyptian intermediaries, Hamas representatives will also take part in the round of talks in Cairo .

The Gaza Strip crossings

After a number of days of quiet (until rocket fire on June 24) Israel opened the crossings to allow the delivery of food, fuel and various other commodities necessary for the renewal of economic activity in the Gaza Strip, and for the passage of Gazans with pressing humanitarian problems. At the same time, the Palestinian police deployed its forces near the crossings to facilitate the passage of goods into the Gaza Strip (BBC, June 22).

The situation at the Gaza Strip crossings, beginning Sunday, June 22:

•  The Sufa crossing : An average of 80 trucks bringing supplies, especially food and humanitarian equipment, enter the Gaza Strip daily.

•  The Nahal Oz crossing : Fuel is delivered daily through the crossing, more or less the same amount as delivered before the crossing was closed and in accordance with the decisions handed down at the time by the Israeli Supreme Court.

•  The Erez crossing : An average of 40 Gazans in need of medical treatment pass through daily.

•  The Karni crossing : An average of 80 trucks daily deliver cereals and animal feed.

•  The Rafah crossing : Egypt permitted a single opening of the crossing to allow the passage of several hundred Gazans who had waited for four months on the Egyptian side (Filastin al-‘An website, June 18).

Hamas spokesmen contradicted one another regarding the status of deliveries through the crossings. Spokesmen for the interior ministry said that incoming deliveries were only 10% greater than usual. On the other hand, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that Israel had delivered a double quantity of goods into the Gaza Strip but that it was nevertheless still too early to determine Israel 's fulfillment of its obligations to the lull arrangement (PalMedia website, June 22). Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya said that it was still impossible to judge whether Israel was fulfilling the arrangement's conditions and that Hamas was reporting to Egypt daily regarding Israel 's implementation of the agrrangement (PalMedia website, June 23).

The release of Gilad Shalit

On June 23 the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the petition lodged by the parents of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. However, the judges noted that the Cabinet had to deliberate again regarding his release, since according to the family's claim, the members of the Cabinet were misled when they were told that the lull arrangement connected the reopening of the crossings to the soldier's release. The Shalit family's attorney said that despite the petition's delay, important progress had been made in the struggle to secure Gilad's release (Haaretz, June 24).

After learning of the Shalit family's petition to the Supreme Court, Hamas warned that any delay in implementing the articles of the lull arrangement would cause Hamas to regard itself as no longer committed to abide by it (Palestine-info website, June 24). Hamas administration spokesman Taher al-Nunu said that Hamas had no interest in Israeli Supreme Court decisions, only in Israel's commitment to the [conditions of the] lull (BBC, June 22). A spokesman for one of the factions of the Popular Resistance Committees (the Kamal Nirab faction) appealed to Gilad Shalit's father, saying that it was the lull that would lead to progress, and not petitions lodged with the Supreme Court. Therefore, he should exert pressure on the Israeli government to accede to Hamas's demands and close the deal (Ramattan News Agency, June 22).

On the other hand, Hamas sources continue to maintain that the issue of Gilad Shalit is not part of the lull arrangement and that he will be released only in return for the release of Palestinian prisoners. Mahmoud al-Zahar said that Hamas had no intention of backing down when it came to the release of prisoners it demanded from Israel in return for Gilad Shalit (Al-Risala, June 23).

Enforcing the lull in the terrorist organizations

The rockets fired at Sderot and the mortar shell illustrate the importance of enforcing the lull on the PIJ and the other terrorist organizations. In our assessment, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is clearly interested in preventing the arrangement from being undermined by organizations such as the PIJ or rogue terrorist groups. On the other hand, Hamas does not want to be accused (as has already happened) of acting against the “resistance” and serving Israeli interests. 3

Mahmoud al-Zahar elaborated on the lull in a speech he gave at a meeting in Rafah (See below). He said that on June 20 three men had attempted to violate the lull arrangement by launching a mortar shell at [Kibbutz] Nahal Oz. He also said that they denied having launched the shell, and that it had been agreed that “ anyone who acts in such a fashion outside the framework of national consensus will have his organizational protection removed and will be dealt with by the law .” He said that Hamas was not responsible for collecting weapons from other organizations and imprisoning their operatives, but that in line with the consensus, achieved it would not allow anyone to destroy the gains made by the Palestinian people. The degree of Hamas's seriousness regarding the enforcement of the lull arrangement was put to the test by the rocket fire on June 24.

Smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip

Before he left for Egypt , Ehud Olmert told the daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that if the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip continued, Israel would be forced to renew its military activities (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, June 24). On the other hand, Mahmoud al-Zahar said that during the negotiations Israel noted that it wanted Hamas to protect the border and stop the weapons smuggling, but Hamas did not commit itself to do so (Al-Aqsa TV, June 23).

Reactions to the lull arrangement

The lull arrangement though the eyes of Mahmoud al-Zahar

Senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Zahar, who was involved in formulating the lull arrangement, gave a speech at a political meeting held by Hamas information bureau in the Rafah district. The theme of the speech was “ The future of the lull in the shadow of changes in the circumstances .”

The main points of his speech were the following (Al-Aqsa TV, June 24):

•  The difference between lull ( tahadiya ) and ceasefire ( hudna ) : according to al-Zahar, the term hudna refers to a longer period and has greater commitments than a lull. He described the lull as an attempt to manage the conflict with Israel at a certain stage to gain achievements.

•  The objectives of the lull : the principle objectives are an end to “every type of Israeli aggression and lifting the blockade.” The “Palestinian street,” which had paid a high price during the fighting, would not allow Israel any option except the lull, and Israel was aware that any broad military action in the Gaza Strip would not be in its own interests.

•  The importance of opening the crossings : Hamas had asked for the clarification of two fundamental issues, namely the amount of time between the end of the fighting and the opening of the crossings, and the materials which would be permitted into the Gaza Strip once the crossings were open. Once accurate clarification was provided, Hamas agreed to the lull arrangement.

•  How organizations which violated the lull arrangement would be dealt with : Hamas would not directly confront the organizations, which would be dealt with by the legal authorities. 4

•  The release of Gilad Shalit : he will be released in a prisoner exchange deal. Israel will have to change its decision not to release those with blood on their hands and to stop all the political and legal maneuvering it uses to sabotage the exchange deal. If the prisoners are not released, Hamas has “many other options.”

•  The lull's influence on the Palestinians : in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank Palestinians feel victorious, and that increases their faith in Hamas. The lull will lead to improved relations between Hamas and Egypt and will enable the destruction caused by Israel to be repaired. However, in principle Hamas will continue its struggle for “every inch of Palestine ” and will not abandon the “resistance” (i.e., terrorism).

•  The lull's influence on Israel : Israel (“the occupation forces”) agreed to the lull because of the “resistance” [terrorism]. Other factors influencing Israel were its internal political situation and the blockade's failure. The lull is expected to create new political tensions in Israel as a result of Hamas's victory.

•  Upcoming challenges : the Palestinians can expect “many battles,” including one for the opening of the Rafah crossing, for keeping the crossings open and over the negotiations for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Reactions of the Gaza Strip residents

The Gazans had mixed feelings about the lull arrangement. Alongside distrust of Israel and doubts about the lull's viability, they expressed hope and the expectation that it would lead to the lifting of the blockade and an improvement in the quality of their lives.

The first signs that the lull was in force were the reports of a drop in the black market prices of basic commodities and fuel, and the mass rush to the sea shore, public parks and markets. Some of the Gazans living east of Khan Yunis, an area of friction with Israel , began returning to their homes. There was a conspicuous rise in the number of public appearances made by Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya, who could be seen on the beach and playing soccer, and seemingly calm and relaxed (Ma'an News Agency, June 19).

The Palestinian media gave broad coverage to the positive implications of the lull arrangement and quoted optimistic remarks made by Gazans. However, there was almost no change in Hamas's propaganda and incitement broadcasts, especially in the songs and short broadcasts between various television programs.

The Internal Palestinian Arena 

Contacts between Fatah and Hamas

According to Palestinian and Arab media reports, the lull is expected to promote a dialogue between Hamas and Fatah (and Abu Mazen) under Egyptian or Arab auspices. In one of his many interviews, Abu Mazen enumerated his conditions for a renewal of negotiations with Hamas: the return of the Gaza Strip to Palestinian Authority rule, obeying the PA and holding legal elections (Al-Jarida, June 19). Hamas, on the other hand, is willing to talk but without preconditions, with the result that the deep gulf between the two sides remains.

As the lull went into effect an attempt was made to promote talks between Fatah and Hamas. Prompted by Abu Mazen, headed by Hiqmat Ziyyad, a delegation of senior Fatah members visited the Gaza Strip between June 17 and 19, where they met with prominent figures. However, a meeting which was supposed to take place on June 19 between members of the Fatah delegation and senior Hamas figures headed by Ismail Haniya was called off because Haniya insisted the meeting be held in his office (Qudsnet website, June 21).

On the ground the hostility between Fatah and Hamas continues. The Hamas security forces continue to arrest Fatah activists in the Gaza Strip and Fatah security forces continue to arrest Hamas activists in Judea and Samaria. The propaganda war also continues in full force:

•  Dr. Yunis al-Astal wrote an article for Hamas's Al-Risala to mark the first anniversary of the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, in which he warned that Fatah activists would be harmed it they “went back to their old ways.” He said that the Hamas takeover was a “necessary punishment” for those who had collaborated with Israel (Al-Risala, June 19).

•  Salah al-Ta'amri , a member of Fatah's revolutionary council, said that Hamas had to apologize to the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip because their houses were destroyed and their sons killed by the “invasions and bombings.” He also said that Hamas had done everything it could to make sure that Abu Mazen's political initiatives failed, and had now announced a lull which had not exacted a price of any political value, “which means that the sons of the Palestinian people fell in vain…and that the lull is not the political victory as represented by Hamas, because it has done nothing for the simple civilian” (Ma'an News Agency, June 19),  

1 Although Judea and Samaria are not included in the lull arrangement.

2 Continuing “Implementing the arrangement for a lull in the fighting (Updated to June 22, 4 p.m. )” .

3 Nabil Amru , PLO representative in Cairo , told Al-Hayat that the lull arrangement turned Hamas in to “an Israeli security contractor.” He also claimed that in its negotiations with Israel Hamas had waived 90% of its demands (Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, June 23).

4 Hamas controls the law enforcement mechanism in the Gaza Strip, at the center of which is its Executive Force. Thus in effect Hamas will have to enforce the lull on the other terrorist organizations, even if it does not formally admit that that is the case. The importance of Hamas's enforcing the lull agreement was illustrated by the rocket fire at Sderot.

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