Written by The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
This past week events focused on the series of coordinated terrorist attacks, whose targets included civilian vehicles, carried out by the Popular Resistance Committees north of Eilat, Israel's southernmost city. Eight Israelis were killed and about 20 were wounded. Israel responded with attacks on a PRC command site, killing five PRC operatives, including Kamal al-Nairab, the head of the main PRC faction.
The events led to an escalation of the hostilities between Israel and the terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip, the most serious escalation since Operation Cast Lead. Hamas did not directly participate in the attacks but in our assessment gave the other organizations practical support and used its media to praise them for "defending" the Gaza Strip. Close to 120 rockets fell in Israeli territory, while the IDF attacked terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip.
On August 22 Hamas and the PRC formally announced their agreement to a return to a lull in the fighting. Since then 14 rockets and several mortar shells have been fired into the western Negev.
Important Terrorism Events Terrorist Attack North of Eilat and Escalation in the South (Initial Report, as of August 22)
One of the buses attacked north of Eilat on August 18. The terrorists drove close to the bus and detonated an IED or an explosive vest. The blast killed the driver and the bus, which was empty, was completely burned (Photo: Ariel Hermoni for the Israeli Ministry of Defense, August 18, 2011).
In the early afternoon of August 18, 2011, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks was carried out against a number of targets, among them civilian vehicles, north of the southernmost Israeli city of Eilat. In our assessment the objective was to kill civilians and members of the Israeli security forces, and possibly to abduct one of them. Eight Israeli citizens were killed and 14 were wounded, most of them sustaining minor injuries. Between five and seven of the terrorists who carried out the attacks were killed. Five members of the Egyptian security forces were also killed, including an officer, and several were wounded. No terrorist organization claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the Israeli prime minister and other Israeli sources have indicated that the Popular Resistance Committees were responsible.2
The attacks led to the deterioration of the situation between Israel and the terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip, at its worst since Operation Cast Lead. In response the Israeli Air Force attacked a building in Rafah which served as a PRC command site where prominent members of the organization were gathered. Kamal al-Nairab (Abu Awad), commander of the PRC's central Gaza Strip faction, and two other prominent terrorists were killed in the attack. Also killed were two terrorist operatives from the organization's military wing. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later said that "those who gave the order to murder our citizens, while hiding in Gaza, are no longer among the living."3
Following the Israeli response, the terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip attacked Israeli cities and villages with almost 160 rockets, about 120 of which fell in Israeli territory, and dozens of mortar shells. Some of the rockets hit locations far from the Gaza Strip, including Beersheba to the east and the cities of Ashdod and Yavne to the north. The IDF retaliated by attacking terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip. On August 22 the Palestinian media reported that Hamas had achieved a ceasefire following contacts with Egypt. During the afternoon of August 22 the main PRC faction announced that its organization had agreed to join the cease fire, and Hamas later made a formal announcement.
Terrorist Attack North of Eilat
In the early afternoon of August 18 operatives from the Gaza Strip who belonged to the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) carried out a series of coordinated terrorist attacks against Israel. A 5-7-man terrorist squad infiltrated into Egypt from the Gaza Strip through the tunnels under the Egyptian-Gaza border, came through the Sinai Peninsula and infiltrated Israel along the its border with Egypt, north of Eilat (north of the Netafim junction). The terrorists were armed with light arms, hand grenades, anti-tank weapons, IEDs and explosive belts. According to media reports they were dressed as Egyptian soldiers.
The attack began around noon and continued until 1800 hours:
A civilian Israeli bus was attacked with light arms. Fourteen passengers were wounded, nine of them IDF soldiers.
One of the terrorists drove along next to another civilian bus, empty at the time, and detonated an IED or explosive belt, killing the driver and burning the bus. Two of the terrorists in the car at the time were also killed.
Left: The terrorists' car (Photo: Ariel Hermoni for the Israeli Ministry of Defense, August 18, 2011). Right: The bus shot at by the terrorists. About 20 passengers were wounded. (Photo: Lior Grundman, August 18, 2011).
IEDs were used to attack two civilian Israeli vehicles, resulting the deaths of five civilians and the wounding of one.
Light arms were fired, possibly also an anti-tank missile, at the IDF force sent to the site of the attack, killing one soldier and wounding four.
A special police unit sent to the site encountered terrorists and opened fire, killing a number of them.
Snipers shot at the special police unit, killing one member of the force.
One of the terrorists detonated IEDs placed along the Egyptian border. IEDs had also been placed along the road, but were not detonated and were defused by Israeli demolitions experts.
Killed and wounded in the terrorist attack were:
Israel: Eight Israelis were killed, six civilians and two members of the security forces. About 20 were injured.
Egypt: Five members of the Egyptian security forces were killed, one of them an officer. Several others were wounded. The circumstances are under examination by the IDF.
The terrorists: Between five and seven of the 12 terrorists in the squad were killed.
The Israeli Response: PRC Leadership Attacked
In response, on the evening of August 18 the IDF attacked a structure in Rafah which served as a PRC command site where prominent members of the organization were gathered. Kamal al-Nairab (Abu Awad), commander of the PRC's central Gaza Strip faction, and two other prominent terrorists were killed in the attack. Also killed were two terrorist operatives from the organization's military wing. Following their deaths, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "those who gave the order to murder our citizens, while hiding in Gaza, are no longer among the living."4
Kamal al-Nairab, commander for the PRC killed in the attack, was head of the main faction of the PRC. He inherited the leadership of the organization from Jamal Abu Samhadana, who was killed by the Israeli Air Force in an attack on a training facility in the southern Gaza Strip on the night of June 8, 2006. Abu Mujahed, PRC spokesman, said that Kamal al-Nairab had gained much experience in operational [i.e., terrorist] activity during the first and second intifadas, and that he had participated in the abduction of Gilad Shalit (Safa News Agency, August 19, 2011). According to a surfer on the Hamas forum, Kamal al-Nairab feared an Israeli reprisal, and two hours before he met with other operatives in Rafah "he washed, prayed, packed a bag with clothing, documents and personal items and told his wife that 'a lot of blood is going to be shed, I am going to into hiding'" (Hamas' PALDF forum, August 21, 2011).
Kamal al-Nairab with Ismail Haniya, head of the de facto Hamas administration,
during a condolence call after the death of one of al-Nairab's relatives
(Photo from Hamas' PALDF website, August 20 2011).
In addition to Kamal al-Nairab, six other terrorist operatives were killed in the Israeli Air Force attack, as well as a child who was in the house at the time. The following are the names and pictures of the operatives killed in the attack:
Khaled al-Masri, prominent PRC operative (PALDF website, August 20 2011)
Imad Nasser, operative in the PRC's military wing
( PALDF website, August 20, 2011).
Imad Hamad (Abu al-Abd), described as "general commander" of the Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades (PRC website). A PRC spokesman said that Imad Hamad had participated in the abduction of Gilad Shalit.
Escalation: Populated Israeli Areas Attacked with Rockets and Mortars
Following the terrorist attack near Eilat and the IDF response, between August 18 and 22 nearly 160 rockets were fired at Israel, 120 of them falling in Israeli territory. Almost 30 of them were standard 12mm Grad rockets, hitting areas around the large southern Israeli cities of Beersheba, Ashdod and Ashqelon. Some of the rockets fell in the western Negev closer to the Gaza Strip. In addition, scores of mortar shells were fired at the Israeli towns and villages ringing the Gaza Strip.
Some of the more prominent attacks were the following:
On August 20 two Grad rocket hits were identified in Beersheba, causing the death of one Israeli civilian, critically wounding four others and inflicting varying degrees of injuries on three others; considerable damage was done to one house in the city.
On August 20 two Grad rocket hits were identified in the region of Ashdod. Four civilians were wounded, one of them critically; several structures were damaged.
On August 20 two more Grad rocket hits were identified in the region of Ashdod. Six civilians were wounded, three of them critically; one sustained minor injuries and two were treated for shock.
On August 20 a Grad rocket hit was identified in Beersheba. An Israeli woman sustained minor injuries and nine were treated for shock. Property was damaged.
On August 21 another Grad rocket hit was identified in Beersheba and property was damaged.
On August 20 three rocket hits were identified in the region of Ofakim. Three Israeli civilians sustained minor injuries.
On August 20 a rocket hit was identified in the western Negev; property was damaged.
Claiming responsibility: The Al-Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades, the military wing of the PRC, fired two Grad missiles at Beersheba at 1940 hours on August 20, 2011, and "the enemy admitted people were killed." According to the announcement, the rocket fire was in retaliation for the deaths of prominent figures in the organization and the PRC would continue jihad and "resistance" as the only way to liberate "Palestine" (Qaweim.com website).
Site of the Grad rocket hit: a school in Beersheba (Photo: Yehuda Lahiani, courtesy of NRG, August 21) A rocket hits a synagogue in Ashdod (Photo: Amir Cohen for Reuters,, August 19, 2011).
Site of the Grad rocket hit in Beersheba which killed an Israeli civilian and wounded sever (Photo: Boaz Ratner for Reuters, August 20, 2011).
In our assessment Hamas has not directly participated in the current round of escalation but it is reasonable to assume that it gave practical support to the organizations operating under its aegis. Hamas does not claim responsibility for attacks and in one exceptional instance, retracted an announcement it made about firing rockets at Ofakim. That occurred on August 20 at 1925 hours in the evening (2025 hours Israeli time), when the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades posted an announcement on their website claiming responsibility for firing four Grad rockets at Ofakim. At 2140 hours the announcement was removed and eight minutes later the PRC's Salah al-Din Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack (Note: For the record, three rockets fell in Ofakim and three local residents sustained minor injuries.)
The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades announcement regarding
the rocket attack on Ofakim (removed shortly thereafter).
Phosphorus-Containing Mortar Shells
In addition to rocket fire, dozens of mortar shell hits were identified in Israeli territory. At least one of them contained phosphorus. It was not the first time the Palestinians used phosphorus-containing mortar shells. They are mostly used by the Army of Islam, affiliated with the global jihad.5
Phosphorus-containing mortar shell which fell in Israeli territory (IDF Spokesman's website, August 22, 2011)
Most of the terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip participated in the rocket and mortar shell fire into Israeli territory. Conspicuous among them were the various PRC factions, which claimed responsibility for firing long-range standard Grad and locally produced rockets at cities in Israel's south, including Beersheba, Ashqelon and Netivot. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad also claimed responsibility, as did Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and jihadist networks affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
Rocket Fire during the Past Year and a Half
Israeli Air Force Attacks
In response to the attack near Eilat, Israeli aircraft struck seven terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip. In the northern Gaza Strip two centers of terrorist activity and a site for producing weapons were hit, and in the south two smuggling tunnels, a terrorist attack tunnel and a terrorist base were hit (IDF Spokesman's website, August 18, 2011).
In response to the rocket fire, Israeli aircraft struck terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip:
On August 19 the Israeli Air Force struck four terrorist targets: two locations for the manufacture of weapons in the central Gaza Strip, a focal point for terrorist activity in the southern Gaza Strip and another focal point in the northern Gaza Strip (IDF Spokesman's website, August 19, 2011).
On August 20 the Israeli Air Force struck four terrorist targets: two attack tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip, a center for the manufacture of weapons in the southern Gaza Strip and a focal point of terrorist activity in the northern Gaza Strip (IDF Spokesman's website, August 20, 2011).
Israeli and Palestinian Casualties
The rocket and mortar shell fire in the south killed one Israeli civilian (a resident of Beersheba) and 30 civilians were either wounded or had to be treated for shock. Counting the casualties of the attacks near Eilat, nine Israelis were killed and scores were wounded.
Twelve Palestinian terrorist operatives were killed in the IDF attacks, and between five and seven terrorist operatives were killed during the attack near Eilat, bringing the total number of Palestinians killed to between 15 and 17. Three civilians who were in close proximity to the terrorists were also killed in the attacks (two of them children). The distribution of Palestinian casualties is as follows:
Popular Resistance Committees: Five dead, three of them high-ranking figures, and two terrorist operatives killed in the attack on the house of Khaled Shaath (names and photos above). Two other terrorist operatives, Samed A'abed and Mahmoud Anaya, also killed.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad: Three terrorists killed, all of them operatives belonging to the PIJ's military wing, the Jerusalem Battalions (Muataz Qraike, Imad Abu Abada and Anwar Aslim).
Muataz Qraike, PIJ terrorist operative, killed in an IDF attack ( PALDF, August 20, 2011).
Mahmoud Anaya, an operative in the PRC's military wing.
Hamas: Two operatives from the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades killed (Mousa Ashtiwi, Ashraf Azzam).
Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees Agree to a Ceasefire
The Hamas-affiliated media reported that the organizations operating in the Gaza Strip agreed to "restore quiet to the Gaza Strip." The ceasefire was supposed to begin on the night of August 21 at 2100 hours (2200 hours Israeli time), the result of, among other things, recent Egyptian efforts to restore calm. Mahmoud Kamel Amro, the Egyptian foreign minister, warned of the dangers of escalation in the Gaza Strip, calling urgently for restraint and an end to military action (Al-Yawm al-Sabaa portal, August 21, 2011).
On the ground, however, the ceasefire was not initially honored. During August 21, 31 rockets were fired into Israeli territory, some of them with a range of 40 kilometers (25 miles). Fourteen rockets were fired after August 21, 2100 hours, when the ceasefire was supposed to begin. Sporadic rocket fire continued throughout the morning of August 22. On August 23 there was quiet on the ground.
Spokesmen for the PRC and PIJ said they rejected the ceasefire, but eventually the PRC announced it was willing to stop its rocket attacks. However, on the afternoon of August 22 a spokesman for the PRC (the Kamal al-Nairab faction) held a press conference where he said that his organization agreed to a temporary ceasefire for the sake of the "public interest." However, he said that the PRC objected in principle to the lull in the fighting (tahadiyah) and that it had not yet settled the score with Israel. In response to questions he added that if Israel continued firing into the Gaza Strip his organization would react in a variety of ways, and hinted that it aspired to attack Israeli leaders in retaliation for the death of its leaders (Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV, August 22, 2011, 1300 hours).
On the afternoon of August 22 the de facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip issued a formal statement agreeing to the ceasefire. Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nunu told a press conference that the Hamas administration had achieved a "mutual calm" [i.e., with the various organizations] and a "lull in the fighting" [with Israel]. According to the announcement, the various factions promised the administration they would abide by the lull as long as Israel did. The Hamas administration praised the factions for "defending the [Palestinian] people" (Al-Aqsa TV, August 22, 2011).
The Palestinian Arena
Hamas denied any connection to the terrorist attack near Eilat but did not denounce it. Taher al-Nunu, spokesman for the de facto Hamas administration, referring to the Israeli defense minister's statement that the Gaza Strip was the source of the attack, denied any connection between the Gaza Strip and the attack6(Safa News Agency, August 18, 2011). However, in its responses after the attack near Eilat, Hamas stressed its readiness "to defend the Palestinian people," and warned Israel against doing "something stupid" (Hamas' Al-Quds TV and its Palestine-Info website, August 18, 2011).
As the escalation continued, Hamas geared up its anti-Israeli propaganda, using its familiar tactic of focusing on Palestinian civilian casualties, broadcasting graphic pictures of killed and wounded civilians. In addition, the Hamas media tried to incite popular Egyptian sentiment by praising the Egyptian casualties, repeating the false claim that Israel had deliberately killed Egyptians, and providing extensive coverage of the demonstrations in Cairo in front of the Israeli embassy. In its formal announcement of the ceasefire, Hamas was careful to praise the various organizations for their role in "defending the [Palestinian] people."
A somewhat apologetic tone was noticeable in the Hamas media for Hamas' not having participated in the current round of escalation. Al-Aqsa TV broadcast announcements stating that the "resistance factions" (a general term) were shooting at Israeli settlements, and showing archive pictures from the previous round of escalation of Qassam rocket fire at Ashqelon.
As events progressed Hamas made clear attempts to end them and prevent further escalation. The Hamas website reported that Ismail Haniya had spoken with Egyptian intelligence chief Murad Muwafi about ways to stop Israel's "aggression" (Hamas' Palestine-Info website, August 20, 2011). Taher al-Nunu, Hamas spokesman, called for a return to calm, saying that "Our official position is to try to restore quiet" (BBC Radio in Arabic, August 20, 2011).
Palestinian Authority Reactions
The Palestinian Authority did not directly or indirectly criticize the terrorist attack near Eilat or the rocket fire targeting Israeli population centers. However, its organ, Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, did publish remarks from commentators affiliated with the Palestinian Authority condemning the damage the attacks had done to the Palestinian cause, especially in view of the political move planned for the United Nations in September.
Adli Sadek wrote that Hamas would do well to act responsibly and call upon the factions firing rockets to have a quick, effective discussion based on a simple calculation: what benefit did rocket fire bring, he asked, even if it caused 100 Israeli deaths, if the enemy's war machine did not stop firing until it causes additional disasters such as loss of lives, capabilities and infrastructures? Hamas should understand that pressing for a ceasefire was nothing to be ashamed of, and that no one would hold it against Hamas if it brought about a ceasefire on the Palestinian side. In fact, as long as the Palestinians adhered to their goals and basic principles regarding the Palestinian cause and Palestinian land, they were on the brink of a real victory (Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, August 22, 2011).
Hafez al-Barghouti, editor of Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, wrote that the Israeli government needed the events in Eilat to calm the home front and present itself as the victim. However, on the other side there were armed factions which were of the opinion that it was in their interest to spoil the political dish cooked up by the Palestinian Authority for its own benefit next month, and as they were saying, "we are here and have to be consulted about the appeal to the UN." That means, he wrote, that the Israel government ("the government of the settlements" and "aggression"), which wants to reshuffle the cards, and the [armed] factions which want to prove they exist, have common interests. The bottom line is that political damage has been done to the Palestinian efforts, which are collapsing under Arab apathy and the Israeli-American campaign in the UN to sabotage the efforts being made for the recognition of a Palestinian state (Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, August 20, 2011).
Mahmoud Abu al-Hijaa wrote a column in Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda entitled "Resistance, But...," in which he said that he was tired of repeating himself, of writing the same words, of issuing warnings, of saying that the resistance was an existential need and the vision of the future. He had said so many times that there was a difference between resistance and the adventurism of seasonal political considerations, or decisions arrived at behind closed doors which only Allah knew and were sometimes the result of financial deals. As always, he added, things passed, but in effect, Palestinian blood was shed without rational or logical considerations. The Palestinians, he continued, only wanted a time-out to take care of their wounded. They wanted the resistance, but to resist while correctly understanding the balance of forces, not only material forces, but moral forces as well. The Palestinians wanted to carry out the popular resistance with demonstrations, and by boycotting the market of the "occupation" [i.e., Israel] and the products of its settlements. They wanted to resist but without rushing, without political considerations, many of which did not appear to be national. The Palestinians, he continued, were not against an armed struggle on the condition it was part of a plan of action and overall approach, and with Arab and international support. A situation should not continue, he concluded, with a situation in which everyone looked out for himself and the people paid the price (Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, August 21, 2011).
In the diplomatic arena, Mahmoud Abbas reportedly charged Riyadh Mansour, the Palestinian representative in the UN, with asking for an extraordinary session of the Security Council to "stop the Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip" (Wafa News Agency, August 20, 2011). A communique sent by Riyadh Mansour to the UN Secretary-General made no mention of the terrorist attack near Eilat and the rocket fire targeting Israeli civilians. It accused Israel of increasing its "military aggression against the Gaza Strip," and of continuing violations of international law. Israel's responses to the terrorist attacks against it were represented as "a policy of collective punishment carried out by Israel against Palestinians," and the international community is required to punish Israel accordingly (Wafa News Agency, August 19, 2011).
There were strong international condemnations of the terrorist attack north of Eilat:
American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the attack in a press release, calling it brutal and cowardly, and a premeditated terrorist attack against innocent civilians. She called on Egypt to ensure the restoration of security and stability to the Sinai Peninsula (Haaretz and Agence France-Presse, August 19, 2011).
Catherine Ashton, foreign minister of the European Union, unreservedly denounced the attacks, and sent condolences to the families of those killed and wishes for a speedy recovery to the wounded (Jerusalem Post, August 19, 2011).
Judea and Samaria
The Situation on the Ground
This past week there were a number of demonstrations at the traditional friction points in Judea and Samaria. Some of the demonstrators carried signs protesting the Israeli Air Force attacks in the Gaza Strip. The demonstrators confronted the Israeli security forces and threw stones at them. The security forces responded with riot control measures.
This past week there were a number of confrontations between Israeli settlers and Palestinians.
Developments in the Gaza Strip
Hamas Security Forces Detain Youths Demonstrating
in Soildarity with the Syrian People
On August 16 the security forces of the Hamas interior ministry detained a group of about ten young men demonstrating to show solidarity with the Syrian people (Wafa News Agency, August 17, 2011). The detentions illustrate the problems Hamas, whose external leadership is located in Damascus, has with everything concerning the protests in Syria.
The Campaign to Delegitimize Israel
World Jerusalem Day in London
On August 21, as planned, World Jerusalem Day events were held in London. World Jerusalem Day, initiated and sponsored by Iran, was organized in London by a British anti-Israeli Islamic organization called the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC). Radical Islamic and extreme leftist organizations participated.7 In our assessment the events did not arouse particular interest. The main events are expected to take place in Iran and throughout the Arab-Muslim world this coming Friday, August 26.
The march and rally in London featured signs reading "We are all Hezbollah" and "Boycott Israel," and cries of "Allahu Akbar" were heard. The signs called for the boycott of Israel, equated Zionism with Nazism, and called Israel an apartheid country.
Photo from YouTube The rally in London
Signs calling for a boycott of Israel held by Inminds activists, a organization promoting the BDS campaign against Israel (YouTube) One of the signs held at the rally in Trafalgar Square.
1 The attack is under investigation by the IDF. This summary should be regarded only as an initial report.
2 For further information about the PRC, see the August 22 bulletin "The Popular Resistance Committees: Portrait of the terrorist organization responsible for the series of coordinated terrorist attacks north of Eilat, Israel's southernmost city"
5 For further information about the use of phosphorus-containing mortar shells by the Palestinian terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, see the November 28, 2010 bulletin "Terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip have recently once again made use of phosphorus-containing 120-mm mortar shells" at http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/ipc_e144.pdf.
6 In our assessment Hamas is afraid that exposure of the attackers will cause problems for it and the Popular Resistance Committees with the Egyptian authorities. Yussef Rizka, Ismail Haniya's political adviser, in his August 19 column in Hamas' daily paper Felesteen, wrote that he hoped for the continuation of opacity concerning the elements behind the attack near Eilat, lest a situation arise in which the "satanic enemy" and its intelligence service benefit from a claim of responsibility, noting Israel's so-called permanent and continuing responsibility for all bloodshed.
7 For further information see the August 14, 2011 bulletin " Jerusalem Day,1 marked on August 26 this year, is an annual Iranian-sponsored event in support of the Palestinian cause. The Iranian regime expects extensive participation in events in Iran, the Arab-Muslim world and the West (including the United States and Britain). The events are at http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/iran_e127.pdf.