1 The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center News of Terrorism and the Israeli- Palestinian Conflict March 16-22, 2011 Window of a western Negev home, shattered by a mortar shell on March 19, 2011, the eve of the Jewish Purim festival (Photo courtesy of Israel Channel 10 TV, March 19, 2011). Overview This week events centered on the exceptional barrages of mm-mortar shell hits which targeted villages in Israel's western Negev. The attack was carried out by Hamas' Izz al-din al- Qassam Brigades. Two Israeli civilians sustained minor injuries and damage was done to property. It was the most serious mortar shell attack since Operation Cast Lead. In addition, four rocket hits were identified in Israeli territory this week, one of them south of the city of Ashqelon. In response Israeli Air Force aircraft struck terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip. The de facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip continues its "smile spin" for the new regime in Egypt, seeking a meeting with its heads. A senior Egyptian official anonymously said that Hamas and Egypt were about to "turn over a new leaf" in their relations and that the new government was critical of the Mubarak's treatment of the Gaza Strip, especially concerning the Rafah crossing. Demonstrations were held in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, called "Day of Rage," to demand an end to the dissension between Hamas and Fatah. The demonstrations in Judea and Samaria were relatively quiet, while in the Gaza Strip violence was used to disperse them, and correspondents were attacked by Hamas' internal security forces.
2 2 Exceptional Barrages of Mortar Shells Targets the Western Negev Overview of Main Incidents On the morning of March 19 exceptional barrages of 120 mm mortar shells attacked Israeli villages of the western Negev. The mortar shells were fired simultaneously from a number of sites in the Gaza Strip. Forty nine shell hits were identified. Most of them fell in open areas. Local residents were told to enter bomb shelters. Two civilians sustained minor injuries and considerable damage was done to property. It was the most serious mortar shell attack since Operation Cast Lead. Property damage caused by the barrages of mortar shells fired at the western Negev on March 19: Upper row and lower right, courtesy of Israel Channel 2 TV, March 19; lower left, photo by Yehuda Lahiani, courtesy of NGR, March 19. In response Israeli aircraft struck terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip on March 19 and the night of March 21, including the following (IDF Spokesman, March 22, 2011): Two smuggling tunnels Tunnels dug to infiltrate terrorist operatives into Israeli territory Two locations for manufacturing and storing weapons Hamas operatives in the northern Gaza Strip
3 3 Terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip attacked by the Israeli Air Force in response to the massive barrage of mortar shells on March 19. Left: Military post. Right: Lathe used to manufacture arms (PALDF, Hamas main forum, March 19 and 22, 2011). The Palestinian media reported 18 wounded by the Israel attack (Ma'an News Agency and Safa News Agency, March 19, 2011). Media Responses from Hamas Responsibility for the mortar fire was claimed by Hamas' Izz al-din al-qassam Brigades, which has not often launched rockets and mortar shells since Operation Cast Lead. They claimed the mortar shells were fired at "IDF posts" in response to "Israel's continued escalation" and in response to the deaths of two Hamas operatives killed by the Israeli Air Force on March 16 (Qudsnet, the Izz al-din al-qassam Brigades website, March 16, 2011). 1 The Izz al-din al-qassam Brigades later said in a statement that if Israel "committed itself to stopping the escalation," the military wing would prevent [rocket and mortar shell] fire in accordance with the "national agreement" of all the organizations in the Gaza Strip (Agence France-Presse and Reuters, March 22, 2011). Senior Hamas figures claimed the attack targeted "IDF posts" in response to Israeli activity in the Gaza Strip. [Note: Despite the fact that the some of the mortar shells hit civilian population centers.] Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that the mortar shell fire targeted IDF posts in response to Israeli activity, and was meant to "protect the Palestinians." He said Israel was exploiting world events and the lack of world attention currently being paid to the events in the Gaza Strip in order to attack (Hamas' Safa News Agency, March 19, 2011). Izz al-din al-qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Obeida said that the firing of dozens of mortar shells was a message to Israel and a response to Israel's ongoing "aggression" 1 The March 16 Israeli Air Force attack was in response to rocket and mortar shell fire from the Gaza Strip carried out the same day. The location attacked was south of Gaza City and was used by the Izz al-din al-qassam Brigades for the manufacture of weapons (IDF Spokesman's website, March 16, 2011).
4 4 over the past few days, especially the attack on a post called "Abu Jarad" post in the southern area of Gaza City (alqassam website and Al-Aqsa TV, March 19, 2011). Senior Hamas figure Ismail Radwan said Israel was responsible for the escalation and that the "resistance" [i.e., the terrorist organizations] had the right to defend itself (Hamas Palestine-info website, March 19, 2011). Reaction from Britain Alistair Burt, Under Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, said, "I condemn the barrage of mortars on southern Israel from Gaza in recent days. The indiscriminate targeting of Israeli citizens, as they celebrated the Jewish festival of Purim, is unacceptable. The firing of over 50 mortars in the space of a few hours, as well as a Grad rocket on Ashkelon that caused injury and damage, signals a further, worrying escalation in the situation at a time when international efforts are focused on getting Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Hamas must halt these strikes immediately, and rein in other militant factions in Gaza." 2 Other Terrorist Events The Gaza Strip Rocket and Mortar Shell Fire In addition to the barrage of mortar shells, this past week four rocket hits were identified in Israeli territory, one south of the city of Ashqelon on March 20. No damage was done. Several civilians were treated for shock. Six additional mortar shells were fired into Israeli territory. There were no casualties and no damage was done. A number of terrorist organizations claimed responsibility for the attack, including the Popular Resistance Committees and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (Hamas Palestine-info website, March 20; Ma'an News Agency and the PFLP website, March 21, 2011). 2
5 5 Rockets and mortar shells fired into Israeli territory 3 Since the end of Operation Cast Lead 286 rocket hits have been identified and 248 mortar shells have been fired into Israel Mortar shells Rockets 7/9-31/8 14/9-7/9 15\9-20\9 27/9-22/9 5/10-28/9 12/10-6/10 19/10-13/10 26/10-19/10 2/11-26/10 16/11-9/11 22/11-17/11 23\11-30\11 7/12-30/11 14/12-8/12 14\12-21\12 22\12-28\12 29\12-4\1 11/1-5/1 18/1-12/1 25/1-18/1 1/2-26/1 8\2-2\2 15/2-9/2 22/2-15/2 1/3-23/2 8/3-2/3 8/3-15/3 22/3-15/3 Rocket Fire -- Monthly Distribution the beginning of 2010, 132 rocket hits have been identified in Israeli territory. Rockets * The statistics do not include rockets which fell in the Gaza Strip. 3 The statistics do not include the mortar shells which fell inside the Gaza Strip.
6 6 Mortar Shell Fire -- Monthly Distribution Since the beginning of 2010, 138 mortar shell hits have been identified in Israeli territory. Additional mortar shells were fired at IDF forces engaged in counterterrorism activities and fell inside the Gaza Strip *מדובר בנפילות שאותרו בשטח ישראל ולא ברצועת עזה. **נכון ל- 22 בפברואר Anti-tank Missile Fired at an IDF Tank On March 20 a Fagot anti-tank missile was fired at an armored IDF vehicle near the border fence in the central Gaza Strip. It was the first time a Fagot missile was fired from the Gaza Strip. It is a light, small anti-tank guided missile developed in the former Soviet Union in the 1960s. Fagot missiles are used by both Syria and Hezbollah (Haaretz and IDF Radio, March 20, 2011). Formerly, on March 1 an anti-tank missile was also fired at an IDF tank engaged in routine activities near the border fence in the southern Gaza Strip. It was successfully intercepted, for the first time, by a new system called "Wind Jacket." Judea and Samaria The Situation on the Ground This past week the Israeli security forces continued their counterterrorism activities, detaining Palestinians suspected of terrorist activities and seizing weapons. A 19 year-old Palestinian with a knife was detained near the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. A Purim party was being held at the time, attended by thousands of people. During interrogation the man admitted he was planning to stab someone (IDF Spokesman's website, March 20, 2011).
7 7 This past week there were a number of local confrontations between Palestinians and Jewish residents which included stone-throwing and other forms of attack. On March 21, after one of the confrontations, the Israeli security forces dispersed a crowd in the village of Beit Umar, north of Hebron (Ynet, March 21, 2011). Developments in the Gaza Strip The Crossings This past week between 217 and 306 trucks carrying merchandise entered the Gaza Strip every day, an increase of approximately 50% compared with previous weeks, including tens of tons of building materials and hundreds of tons of gas for cooking. In addition, 641,000 flowers meant for export left the Gaza Strip though the crossings into Israel (Website of the Israeli government coordinator for the territories, March 22, 2011). In preparation for moving the activity of the Karni crossing to the Kerem Shalom crossing, a conveyor belt for transporting grain was installed. This past week tens of tons of wheat were brought into the Gaza Strip (Website of the Israeli government coordinator for the territories, March 22, 2011). The De Facto Hamas Administration Seeks to Improve Relations with the New Egyptian Regime The de facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip continues its efforts to improve relations with the new regime in Egypt. According to a senior Hamas figure, whose name was not mentioned, since the change of regimes there have been intensive contacts between Egypt and Hamas (Agence France-Presse, March 14, 2011). Ismail Haniya, head of the de facto administration, Khaled Mashaal, head of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus and Mahmoud al-zahar, a senior Hamas figure in the Gaza Strip have held telephone conversations with Nabil al-arabi, the new Egyptian foreign minister (Al-Yawm Al- Saba'a, March 21, 2011). In addition, ministers in the de facto Hamas administration have been in contact with their opposite numbers in Egypt concerning a variety of local issues (health, ecology, infrastructure) (websites of the Hamas administration ministries, March 17, 2011). Hamas is also trying to arrange a meeting for a delegation of senior movement members with the heads of the new regime in Egypt. Mahmoud al-zahar, currently head of the delegation to Sudan, may head it (Al-Shuruq, March 9, 2011). In addition, on March 22 a high-level Hamas delegation is expected to go through Egypt on their way to Damascus. While in Egypt its members may meet with senior Egyptian figures (Al-Hayat, March 22, 2011).
8 8 Hamas' efforts aimed at improving relations with the new Egyptian regime have fallen on willing ears. A senior Egyptian figure, who requested anonymity, said that Egypt and the Hamas administration were turning over a new leaf and that ministers of the new regime were critical of Mubarak's treatment of the Gaza Strip, especially concerning the issue of the Rafah crossing. He said that future Muslim Brotherhood participation in the new Egyptian regime would provide leverage to influence Hamas (Agence France-Presse, March 14, 2011). The Peace Process Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas Interviewed by Israeli TV On March 19 Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas was the guest of the Israeli Channel 2 show "Meet the Press." The main points of the interview were the following (according to Israel Channel 2 TV, March 19, 2011): The peace process and an agreement with Israel: 4 Mahmoud Abbas said that he had no objection to meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu "anywhere." He said the negotiations would resume when Prime Minister Netanyahu had made it clear that he was willing to accept the 1967 borders as a basis for negotiations and to freeze the building in the settlements for a number of months. He said that the negotiations would lead to the end of the conflict and cancel the historical territorial claims of both sides. He said that he was prepared for an exchange of territories, and that if Netanyahu made a proposal similar to the one suggested by [former Israeli prime minister] Ehud Olmert he would accept it. He emphasized that he would not accept a state "with temporary borders" as the negotiations' final goal, but was ready to accept a final status arrangement implemented in stages, one of which would be a state with temporary borders. 4 ITIC translation throughout.
9 9 He said that although many countries had already recognized a Palestinian state, he did not want to declare an independent state "on paper," and preferred a peace agreement with Israel. Internal Palestinian reconciliation: Mahmoud Abbas said that the two parts of the Palestinian people, those in the West Bank and those in the Gaza Strip, had to be united. He claimed that the schism within the Palestinian people was an obstacle to peace and served Israel as an excuse not to go forward with the negotiations. He expressed confidence that Hamas would not win elections in the West Bank, but nevertheless said that elections would be held and the Palestinians would choose whom they wanted, even if it were Hamas. He said the Palestinians were peace-loving and that even if Hamas should win the elections, Israel had nothing to fear. He said that Hamas had expressed readiness to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and was currently preventing rockets from being fired from the Gaza Strip. He added that he hoped that the Palestinian Authority would be able to turn Hamas into a "peace movement." The murder in Itamar: Mahmoud Abbas again denounced the murder of the Fogel family in the village of Itamar. He claimed he denounced it as soon as he heard about it. He emphasized that the deed was an exception to Palestinian tradition and morality. He claimed that the senior figures of the Palestinian Authority doubted whether the murderer was a Palestinian, because "it is unthinkable that a Palestinian aware of his own actions could kill a three month-old baby." The Internal Palestinian Arena "Day of Rage" Demonstrations in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip Demand an End to the Dissension between Fatah and Hamas On March 15 demonstrations were held in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip calling for an end to dissension between Fatah and Hamas. In Judea and Samaria the demonstrations were held relatively quietly, but in the Gaza Strip Hamas' internal security forces used violence to disperse them. The violence also targeted correspondents and
10 10 documentation was apparently confiscated or destroyed. "Day of Rage" demonstrations were also held after March 15 and they too were forcefully dispersed. The main events were the following: Judea and Samaria: Demonstrations and marches were held in the large cities calling for an end to the schism between Fatah and Hamas. Calls were also heard to put an end to the "occupation" and there were demands for Jerusalem and realizing the socalled "right of return." According to one report, at one demonstration cries of "With our souls and blood we will redeem you, Palestine" were heard (Safa News Agency and Wafa News Agency, March 15, 2011). Other such demonstrations were held after March 15, especially after the Friday prayers on March 18 (Wafa News Agency, March 18, 2011). Demonstration to end the schism, Bethlehem (Wafa News Agency, March 15, 2011) Gaza Strip: On March 15 10,000 Palestinians attended the demonstration held in the Square of the Unknown Soldier in Gaza City. Apparently, at a certain point many Hamas supporters arrived waving Hamas flags, despite the organizations' demand that only "Palestinian" flags be carried. A clash broke out between the two groups during which the Hamas security forces attacked some of the demonstrators. Media representatives were also attacked. A number of demonstrators, possibly dozens, were wounded (Palestine News Network and Ma'an News Agency, March 21, 2011). Later in the week there were more demonstrations in the Gaza Strip calling for the end of the schism, and most of them were also violently dispersed by the Hamas police: On March 16 Hamas internal security forces dispersed a demonstration held in front of the International Red Cross headquarters in Gaza City (Wafa News Agency, March 17, 2011).
11 11 On March 17 the Hamas internal security forces attacked demonstrators calling for an end of the schism in front of UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City. The Palestinian press reported that some of the demonstrators barricaded themselves inside the building and asked for asylum, and that the security forces surrounded the building. Their fate is unknown (Wafa News Agency, March 17, 2011). On March 18 another demonstration was held in front of UNRWA headquarters and dispersed by the internal security forces, apparently without the use of force (PIJ Paltoday website, March 18, 2011). On March 19 Hamas' internal security forces used force to disperse a group of hundreds of students trying to organize a march from the Al-Azhar University building to the Square of the Unknown Soldier on Gaza City. Force was also used to disperse a march of women in front of the Red Cross building in Khan Yunis. A number of women were detained (Wafa News Agency and Ma'an News Agency, March 19, 2011). The de facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, which managed to contain the demonstrations and channel them into the issue of internal reconciliation, was quick to deny reports of the use of force. The administration's interior ministry condemned what it called the "incitement campaign" led by "certain media" against Hamas and the residents of the Gaza Strip in order to distort Hamas' image. It specifically mentioned the Ma'an News Agency, Palestinian Authority TV and a number of local channels whose names were not noted (Hamas interior ministry website, March 15, 2011). Hamas' information bureau denounced Ma'an News Agency's coverage of the demonstrations in the Square of the Unknown Soldier, calling it "lies and fraud" (Hamas' Palestine-info website, March 15, 2011). On March 19, following the demonstrations, Hamas security networks raided the offices of a number of news agencies in Gaza City, among them CNN, Reuters, the Associated Press and the Japanese TV channel NHK. As a result, correspondents held a protest demonstration after the raid in Gaza City and even announced they would stop covering Hamas-related news (Wafa News Agency, March 19, 2011). In response, Fathi Hamad, interior minister of the de facto Hamas administration, said that the administration stood for "freedom of opinion and expression," and that the raid on the offices of the news agencies had been carried out in violation of instructions. He added that the entire matter was being investigated and suspects had been detained (Wafa News Agency, March 19, 2011).
12 12 Protest demonstration after the raid on the news agencies' offices in the Gaza Strip (PIJ Paltoday website, March 19, 2011). Reports in the Palestinian Media about Mahmoud Abbas' Intention to Visit the Gaza Strip After the "Day of Rage," and seemingly as a response to "the people's demands," Ismail Haniya, head of the de facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, asked Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas to visit the Gaza Strip to hold comprehensive negotiations and end the schism between Fatah and Hamas (Hamas' Palestine-info website, March 15, 2011). In response Mahmoud Abbas said he was willing to go to the Gaza Strip "tomorrow" to meet Ismail Haniya, under the aegis of the UN and the Arab League (Ynet, March 16, 2011). The Palestinian Authority and Hamas administration allegedly then began making preparations for the logistics and security of the visit expected, all PLO executive committee member Zakaria al-a'a, next week (Qudsnet and Ma'an News Agency, March ). Senior Hamas figure Osama Hamdan elaborated Hamas' conditions for a reconciliation: Formulating a political program which would advance the "liberation" [of "Palestine] and the "return" [of terrorist Palestinian refugees]. Establishing a Palestinian organization instead of the PLO which would represent all the Palestinian factions. Integrating the Legislative Council (where Hamas has a majority) into the government which would be formed. Releasing Hamas activists detained by the Palestinian Authority. Terminating the Palestinian Authority's security coordination with Israel.
13 13 Terminating the negotiations with Israel (Al-Quds TV, March 19, 2011). So far, it is unclear whether Mahmoud Abbas will in fact visit the Gaza Strip.
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