Written by The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
This past week the western Negev was quiet. An attempted terrorist attack was prevented in Samaria at the Salem checkpoint. In addition, there were confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli security forces and settlers in various locations in Judea and Samaria.
Ismail Haniya, head of the de-facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, said during a visit to Tunisia that Hamas would never lay down its arms or give up the territory of "Palestine." Mahmoud al-Zahar, a high-ranking Hamas figure in the Gaza Strip, said that the armed resistance [i.e., terrorism] had to be maintained, adding that the "popular resistance" was not suited to the circumstances of Gaza Strip.
This past week there was relative quiet in Israel's south. No rocket hits were identified and no mortar shells were fired into Israeli territory.
Pipe Bombs Uncovered at the Salem Checkpoint
On January 8, 2012, four Palestinians were detained during a routine security examination at the entrance of the courthouse in Salem (on the road leading from the Megiddo junction to Jenin). Eleven pipe bombs of varying sizes were found in their possession, as were a pistol, a homemade commando knife and ammunition. The four are suspected of being on their way to carry out a terrorist attack. They were remanded for interrogation and the pipe bombs were destroyed (Ynet, January 8, 2012).
The Situation on the Ground
This past week the IDF carried out routine counterterrorist activities in Judea and Samaria, detaining Palestinians suspected of terrorist activities and confiscating weapons. There were a number of confrontations between Palestinians and the Israeli security forces and between Palestinians and Israeli settlers.
The most prominent incidents were the following:
On January 7 there was a clash between settlers and Palestinians near the village of Burin, south of Nablus. One Israeli civilian sustained slight injuries, received first aid and was evacuated to a hospital. A number of Palestinians were wounded but did not need hospital treatment. The Israeli security forces employed riot control measures to disperse the crowd (IDF Spokesman, January 7, 2012).
On January 7 about 20 Palestinians gathered near the settlement of Karmei Tzur near the village of Beit Ummar, north of Hebron, and threw stones at Israeli security forces. The forces employed riot control measures to disperse them. The area was declared a closed military area (IDF Spokesman, January 7, 2012).
On January 7 about 15 Palestinians gathered near the village of Burin and threw stones at the Israeli security forces. The forces employed riot control measures to disperse them (IDF Spokesman, January 7, 2012).
On January 5, 2012, the Judea and Samaria district police issued administrative restraining orders against 12 Israeli residents. The orders were signed by the head of the Central Command, General Avi Mizrahi, on the recommendation of the Israel Security Agency, for periods of between three and nine months. The orders were issued after a great deal of information had been collected by the ISA indicating that the 12 belonged toa group of extremist activists which were involved in leading, directing and carrying out extensive violent clandestine activities against Palestinians in Judea and Samaria and the Israeli security forces (IDF Spokesman, January 5, 2012).
On January 2, 2012, Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, appointed Mahmoud Damra, a terrorist released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal, as his advisor for provinces. Mahmoud Damra, aka Abu Awad, is a resident of Ramallah, born in 1961, divorced and father of three.
As of 1996 Mahmoud Damra, who was close to Yasser Arafat, commanded the PLO's Force 17 in Ramallah. Force 17 is responsible for guarding Fatah leaders, but also carried out terrorist attacks. Damra instructed Fatah operatives to shoot at IDF forces and also participated in firing an anti-tank missile at an Israeli tank. He dealt with manufacturing IEDs, one of which was supposed to be used by a suicide bomber. When Mahmoud Abbas was appointed chairman of the Palestinian Authority in 2005, Damra was appointed commander in chief of Force 17.
He participated in the planning, organizing and directing of a number of terrorist attacks, including the following:
October 30, 2000: A shooting attack which took place in the Israeli Social Security offices in East Jerusalem, killing a security guard and wounding another man.
October 31, 2000: A shooting attack near the settlement of Ofra (north of Ramallah) which killed Binyamin and Talia Kahane and wounded three of their children.
December 1, 2000: A shooting attack against an Israeli bus at the French Hill junction in East Jerusalem.
Mahmoud Damra lived in Palestinian Authority facilities in Ramallah and also hid in the Muqataa for a long period of time. On September 5, 2006, six years after he was put on Israel's wanted list, he was detained during an IDF operation in the village of Bir Zayit near Ramallah. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and released as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal.
The Coordinator for government activities in the territories and the head of the Coordination and Liaison Administration in the Gaza Strip recently met with Gazan businessmen. They informed the Gazans about actions taken by Israel to improve and upgrade the Kerem Shalom crossing, which will continue as the main economic artery for transporting goods from Israel to the Gaza Strip.
The matter of enlarging the list of materials which can be imported into the Gaza Strip was also raised; the list is currently being examined by the relevant security agencies. The Coordinator for government activities in the territories also instructed an examination be held of policies for issuing exit visas for people accompanying businessmen, especially immediate family members (IDF Spokesman, January 4, 2012).
In reference to the rise of the Islamist parties in the Arab world, senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Zahar said that the regional changes played into Hamas' hands because they would strengthen the movement. He said the gains should be exploited to further the Palestinian cause. He added that Hamas would never give up the "struggle" [i.e., terrorism] against Israel under any condition whatsoever (Ma'an News Agency, January 9, 2012).
In addition, Mahmoud al-Zahar still has reservations about the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement, noting that "the popular resistance is not suitable for the Gaza Strip." He said deliberations about the popular resistance were carried out only at the level of "slogans" and that the armed "resistance" [i.e., terrorism] had to be maintained (Ma'an News Agency, January 9, 2012).
Mahmoud al-Zahar (Ma'an News Agency, January 9, 2012)
After visiting Turkey, a stop on his flying tour, Ismail Haniya, head of the de-facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, paid an official visit to Tunisia. There he met with the heads of the administration and visited the city of Sidi Bouzid, where the Jasmine Revolution began. After five days in Tunisia, he left for the Gaza Strip through Egypt (Hamas' Palestine-info website, January 9, 2012).
Ismail Haniya meets Tunisians. A visit to Sidi Bouzid
(Hamas' Palestine-info website, January 6, 2012).
Speaking before an audience of several thousand in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, Ismail Haniya stressed that Hamas would never lay down its arms and give up the territory [of "Palestine"] it demanded or its demands for Jerusalem. He said Israel no longer had allies in Egypt or Tunisia, that times had changed and now was the time of the "Arab Spring" (Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades website, January 9, 2012).
Regarding Egypt Haniya said that now that the Muslim Brotherhood was part of the administration, Egypt could no longer ignore the Gaza Strip or support Israel if there were another war. He said that in light of the changes in the Middle East Israel's security had also changed and the Palestinians had profited from that more than anyone else (Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades website, January 8, 2012).
Ismail Haniya meets with the heads of the Tunisian administration
(Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades website, January 8, 2012).
As part of the internal Palestinian reconciliation efforts, preparatory meetings of the freedoms committee and the election committee were held. Both committees were appointed during the last round of Hamas-Fatah talks. The freedoms committee met in the Gaza Strip and discussed political detentions and passports. The members of the committee agreed to meet again. The elections committee met and discussed arrangements for opening its offices in the Gaza Strip and preparations for a committee visit to the Gaza.
The freedoms committee meets in the Gaza Strip
(Hamas' Palestine-info website, January 8, 2012).
Members of the Fatah delegation who were supposed to tour the Gaza Strip and meet with Fatah and Hamas officials encountered difficulties as they tried to enter the Gaza Strip. According to members of the delegation, their ID cards were taken and they waited for a long time for authorization to enter, and in the end decided to return to Ramallah. Furious over the incident, they said it was a violation of the Cairo agreement. Ahmed Assaf, a Fatah spokesman, said that it was a step taken "to sabotage the reconciliation" and called on Khaled Mashaal to denounce the behavior of the Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip and make sure such incidents did not occur in the future (Wafa News Agency, January 7, 2012).
The Peace Process
On January 3, at a press conference held after the previous meeting of representatives from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and International Quartet, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh called on Israel and the Palestinians to reach a permanent agreement based on the two-state solution by the end of the year according to the Quartet outline. He said that despite the fact that there had been no significant progress, the important outcome of the meeting was the renewal of contact between the sides. He said a series of follow-up meetings would be held in Jordan, and that some of them would be held behind closed doors. Judeh avoided answering questions about construction in the settlements, saying only that "it is clear from the Quartet's announcement what unilateral and provocative steps are" (Al-Dustour, January 5, 2012).
On January 9 there was another Israeli-Palestinian meeting in Amman attended by ,the Jordanian foreign minister and representatives of the International Quartet. After the meeting, Hamas spokesmen denounced the Palestinian Authority for its intentions to hold meetings with Israel which would, according to Hamas, harm the reconciliation:
Mahmoud al-Zahar objected to negotiations with Israel, claiming that they had no future. He said if Mahmoud Abbas wanted to gamble on peace talks with Israel rather than reconciliation with Hamas, in the end he would lose (Hamas' Felesteen, January 10, 2012).
Ismail Radwan, Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, claimed that the meeting was absurd and detrimental to Palestinian unity (Al-Sharq, January 5, 2012).
1 The statistics do not include rockets and mortar shells fired which fell inside the Gaza Strip. As of date January 10, 2012.