Written by The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
News of Terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (April 13-26, 2011) Events this past week focused on the April 24 killing of a young Israeli and wounding of three others by Palestinian police. The victims were returning after praying at Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, without having previously coordinated their visit with the IDF. The attack is under investigation by the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Israel's south was relatively quiet during the Passover holiday. Two rockets were fired, and the IDF responded by attacking terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip.
On April 14 Vittorio Arrigoni, an anti-Israeli International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist, was abducted in the Gaza Strip. He was killed by his abductors, operatives of a network affiliated with Al-Qaeda. The event posed a governmental challenge to the de facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, its security and image, and its reaction was rapid and aggressive. On April 19 operatives of Hamas' security forces killed two of the abductors, wounding and detaining the third.
Overview of this weeks Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
On April 24, 2011, a group of Orthodox Israeli Jews was attacked by gunfire. They were returning after praying at Joseph's Tomb, near Nablus. The four belonged to a larger group of Breslav worshippers who arrived without previously coordinating their visit with the IDF. Ben-Yosef Livnat, a young man in his twenties, was killed, and three others were wounded, one critically. Their car was attacked by gunfire near the Samarian village of Har Bracha (IDF Spokesman, April 24, 2011).
The incident is being investigated by the IDF, the Civilian Administration and the Palestinian security services. The investigation will include a meeting between the IDF and the Palestinian services (IDF Spokesman, April 24, 2011). According to IDF Radio, quoted by the IDF Spokesman, the Israeli civilians were shot by a Palestinian policeman. The victims belonged to a large group of worshippers who entered the precinct of Joseph's Tomb without authorization. They managed to escape from the area and went to the IDF base at Har Bracha, where they received medical treatment (IDF Spokesman quoting IDF Radio, April 24, 2011).
Left: Young Palestinians confront the Israeli security forces which entered Nablus after the incident.
Right: Closing the gates of Joseph's Tomb after the gunfire (PALDF, Hamas’ main forum, April 24, 2011).
In response, Jibrin al-Bakri, governor of the Nablus district, said that the Palestinian security forces were investigating the event and that when they had finished a formal statement would be issued. He claimed that the young Israelis had entered the Nablus district in a suspicious way without authorization. He also claimed that before they were shot at, a policeman fired shots into the air. He added that shooting at an Israeli vehicle, even if it entered without military coordination, was exceptional and that the circumstances were as yet still unclear, but he stressed that shots had not been fired "[with intent] to harm" (Wafa News Agency, Ynet, April 24, 2011).
Israel's south was relatively quiet over the Passover holiday. Two rocket hits were identified in Israeli territory: on April 15 a Grad rocket landed near the city of Ashdod. There were no casualties and no damage was done. On April 18 a rocket hit was identified in an open area in the western Negev. There were no casualties and no damage was done.
Rockets and Mortar Shells Fired into Israeli Territory 1
Rocket Fire -- Monthly Distribution
Mortar Shell Fire -- Monthly Distribution
* As of April 26, 2011
** Rocket and mortar shell hits identified in Israeli territory, not the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Air Force Attack
On April 16, in response to the rocket fire targeting the Israel's south, Israeli aircraft struck terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian media reported that two posts of Hamas' Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades were attacked. No casualties were reported ((IDF Spokesman's website, Safa News Agency, April 16, 2011).
Hamas Action to Restrain Rocket Fire into Israel
The Palestinian media reported that Hamas deployed its internal security forces along the border with Israel to prevent rocket fire. The forces detained operatives caught while firing rockets (Alkofiapress website, April 12, 2011).
Abduction and Murder of Italian Anti-Israeli Activist
On April 14, 2011, Vittorio Arrigoni, an anti-Israeli activist belonging to the ISM, was abducted in the Gaza Strip by a network affiliated with Al-Qaeda. He was executed by his abductors. The abduction and execution posed a governmental challenge for the Hamas administration, its security and image, making Hamas respond aggressively in an attempt to minimize the damage.
Vittorio Arrigoni arrived in the Gaza Strip in 2009. He came on a ship belonging to the FGM (Free Gaza Movement), an anti-Israeli network organizing flotillas to the Gaza Strip. In a video posted on YouTube Arrigoni says that ISM activists came from abroad to "serve as human shield [for the Palestinians]" and to renew ISM activity in the Gaza Strip, which stopped in 2003.
Vittorio Arrigoni describes his voyage to the Gaza Strip aboard a FGM ship. The tattoo
on his arm reads "Resistance" (i.e., terrorism and violence) in Arabic (YouTube, April 14, 2011).
Arrigoni's abductors threatened to kill him the following day if the Hamas administration did not accede to their demands and release Hashem Saidani, an operative who heads an Al-Qaeda-affiliated network in the Gaza Strip called Tawid wal-Jihad. A video was posted on YouTube showing Arrigoni blindfolded and wounded. The subtitle read "If our demands are not met within 30 hours the captive will be executed." Arrigoni was killed before the time was up, apparently by Tawid wal-Jihad operatives (the network denied connection to the abduction).
Following the execution the Hamas security forces acted quickly to locate the killers. On April 19 security force operatives surrounded the house in the Nuseirat refugee camp2 in which the three were hiding. According to a statement issued by the Hamas interior ministry, the operatives tried to convince the murderers to surrender, and when that failed the force stormed the house.
In the ensuing takeover of the house two of the murderers were killed (according to Hamas, one of them, Abd al-Rahman al-Barizat, used a hand grenade to commit suicide). The third operative, Mahmoud al-Salfiti, sustained minor injuries and was arrested. One Hamas operative was wounded (From a press conference held by Ihab al-Ghussein, spokesman for the interior ministry of the Hamas administration, Al-Quds TV, April 19, 2011). Hamas sources reported that Abd al-Rahman Muhammad al-Barizat was a Jordanian citizen who infiltratedinto the Gaza Strip through a tunnel (Al-Sabil, April 17, 2011).
Speaking publicly, Ismail Haniya and the de facto Hamas administration strongly denounced the murder, claiming it was "an isolated incident" and that the Gaza Strip was a safe place (Al-Aqsa TV, April 15, 2011). On April 15, the Hamas administration interior ministry called the event "a revolting crime," "which is completely against the Palestinian religion, customs and tradition." The Hamas administration's foreign ministry and a spokesman for the Hamas police stressed that the Gaza Strip was a safe place and that the murder would not influence the arrival of foreign activists affiliated with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip (Hamas' Safa News Agency, Al-Aqsa TV, April 20, 2011).
Indictment against Australian-Jordanian Citizen Accuse of Spying for Hamas
An indictment for "membership in Hamas and providing services for Hamas" was handed down on April 16 against Iyad Rashid Abu Arja, who holds both Australian and Jordanian citizenship and lives in Saudi Arabia. Abu Arja was detained at Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport on March 24. He is accused of having been dispatched by Hamas operatives to create business contacts with Israeli computer companies, to tour the country photographing commercial centers and to provide his handlers with maps of the regions he visited.
According to media reports based on the indictment, since the 1980s Abu Arja had been in contact with Salah Abd al-Karim al-Tamouni, a Palestinian activist, in both Australia and Saudi Arabia. In 2007 al-Tamouni introduced him to a Hamas operative in Abu Nizmi. The operative asked him to help Hamas with encryption, but Abu Arja told him it was beyond his capabilities. Between 2009 and 2011 Abu Arja was asked to locate and purchase equipment for Hamas, such as encrypted phones, amplifiers for communications signals, panoramic cameras and various types of technology to locate and guide missiles. In 2011 he told his handlers that he intended to fly to Israel, and they asked him to see if he could get into Israel on an Australian passport. During interrogation Abu Arja admitted the charges (Haaretz, April 20, 2011).
Developments in the Gaza Strip
During the past two weeks between 52 and 271 trucks carrying merchandise entered the Gaza Strip every day. In addition, entrance into Israel was authorized for 214 Christians from the Gaza Strip to enable them to attend Easter prayers in Jerusalem (Website of the Israeli government coordinator for the territories, April 26, 2011).
The Peace Process
Negative Fatah/PLO and Hamas Responses to the New York Times Report about the Obama Proposal
The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported that senior White House officials were working on a draft of the new peace proposal which American President Obama is planning to present in the near future. According to reports it will have four main points: A Palestinian state within the 1967 lines, with minor, reciprocal and agreed-on changes, as the border; compensation for Palestinian refugees instead of a "right of return;" Jerusalem as a "real home to two capitals" and a demilitarized Palestinian state.3
Hamas and Palestinian/PLO spokesmen were quick to reject the proposal, primarily because of the demand to waive the so-called "right of return." Nabil Shaath, member of Fatah's Central Committee, said that the Palestinians would oppose any American plan based on "waiving…one of the basic rights…the Palestinians' "right of return." Saeb Erekat, a member of the PLO's Executive Committee, claimed that there was no such thing as "the Obama proposal," but rather a "trial balloon" sent up by the American media (Qudsnet, April 21; Voice of Palestine Radio, April 24, 2011).
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that Hamas opposed the proposal because it was an attempt to "destroy the Palestinians' right of return to the lands occupied since 1948" (Hamas’ Palestine-info website, April 22, 2011).
The ministry of refugee affairs in the de facto Hamas administration posted an announcement on its website stating that it "viewed with great seriousness" the latest statements of the American administration about President Obama's future four-point proposal, "the most serious of which is the relinquishing of the right of return" (Website of the Hamas ministry of refugee affairs, April 23, 2011).
Flotillas and Convoys to the Gaza Strip – Update
The Upgraded Anti-Israeli Flotilla Freedom Fleet 2
The date of Freedom Fleet 2's sailing is still unclear. Spokesman for the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza (ECESG) and the Free Gaza Movement (FGM) claimed it would set sail in May. However, Said Bilici, spokesman for the Turkish IHH (which plays a major role in the flotilla) said that it would set sail for the Gaza Strip at the end of June, after the elections in Turkey. He added that the Mavi Marmara would sail in the flotilla with passengers from 50 countries (Agence France-Presse, April 13, 2011).
Nabil Shaath, member of Fatah's Central Committee, said that Fatah would participate in the flotilla (Radio Al-Shams, Nazareth, April 21, 2011). A spokesman for the flotilla said that Fatah had not contacted the coalition organizing the flotilla, but its interest in participating was "blessed" (Hamas’ Palestine-info website, April 22, 2011). Rami Abdo, activist of the ECESG network, which participates in the coalition organizing the flotilla, was more reserved. He said that the ECESG did not want the flotilla to be exploited for internal Palestinian politics by any side (Hamas’ Palestine-info website, April 21, 2011).
Efforts continue to raise money for flotilla participation:
The committee organizing Jordanian delegation to the flotilla held a fundraiser at the Trade Union Center on April 21 (Jordanian News Agency, April 20, 2011).
The committee organizing the Canadian delegation is planning a fundraiser for May 7 (Canadians Boat to Gaza website, April 26, 2011).
The Australian Palestinian Relief Fund is raising money to fund a delegation of 17 Australians (Organization website, April 26, 2011).
Overland Convoys to the Gaza Strip
The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) announced its intention to send an overland convoy to the Gaza Strip between May 11 and 19, hoping to arrive on May 15. The date symbolizes the one-month anniversary of the murder of its activist Vittorio Arrigoni, and Nakba Day (ISM website, April 26, 2011).
Muhammad Kaya, IHH representative in the Gaza Strip, said that his organization was weighing the possibility of organizing an overland convoy after [the Muslim holy month of] Ramadan (around august 2011) (Al-Aqsa TV, April 20, 2011).
A Call to Send Palestinians and Foreign Volunteers to Israel's Borders
An Internet campaign, conducted mainly through YouTube and Facebook, is calling for a so-called "third Palestinian intifada," which will include a series of Palestinian protests around the globe. It is expected to reach its peak on May 15, when the organizers call for crowds of Palestinians and foreigners to mass at Israel's borders. Some of the groups organizing the event are calling for it to be integrated into Freedom Fleet 2 planned, they claim, for May 15 (meanwhile, the flotilla may be delayed).
1 The statistics do not include the rockets and mortar shells which fell inside the Gaza Strip.
2 Located in the central Gaza Strip.