The Palestinian-operated Ma’an news agency reported yesterday that Hamas, the ruling party in the Palestinian Authority, took responsibility for launching more than 80 missiles into the Israeli communities that border Gaza during Israel’s Independence Day, which this year was observed yesterday, April 24. Hamas claimed direct hits on the city of Ashkelon, located just north of Gaza.
Over the past year since Hamas assumed power in the Palestinian Authority, Hamas has rarely taken credit for missile attacks on Israel. In the spring of 2004, the Israeli army killed the leaders of Hamas at the time, Achmed Yassin and Abdilaziz Al-Rantissi, after these Hamas leaders took credit for terror attacks against Israel.
Ma’an news agency also reports that the An-Nasser Salah Ad-Din brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), fired two missiles, said that at the kibbutz Kerem Shalom, located southeast of Rafah on the border point between the Gaza Strip, Egypt and Israel. The Al-Quds brigades, the military wing of Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa brigades, the main armed wing of Fatah, chaired by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, also claimed responsibility for launching missiles at a number of the Israeli city of Sderot.
The Middle East Newsline has confirmed that Israel’s military has warned of a major attack against Palestinian insurgency strongholds in the Gaza Strip. “Six years of turning a blind eye have ended, and from now on, no one will be immune. We will operate across the border,” declared Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz during a ceremony commemorating Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism for Memorial Day, speaking in his home town, the missile-battered city of Sderot.
Throughout Israeli Independence Day, Israeli fighter-jets patrolled the air space over the Gaza Strip and dropped leaflets around major cities. The leaflets warned that the Israeli army would invade the Gaza Strip unless Palestinians ended their missile strikes on Israel immediately.
The Bulletin has asked the Israel Ministry of Defense as to whether current Hamas leaders of the Palestinian Authority will now face a similar fate that Yassin and Rantissi suffered three years ago, since Israel faced no international outcry after the Israeli army put the previous leaders of Hamas to death.
Published April 24th, 2007 in the Philadelphia Bulletin:
Jerusalem – One of the cardinal assumptions of Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was that the world would not recognize a government headed by Hamas. She had been proven wrong, because Mahmoud Abbas has successfully sold the idea to the world, since he is the figurehead leader of that government.
Last Thursday, Abbas met with the Swedish prime minister in Stockholm. Following the meeting, Abbas said that he found that there was a positive atmosphere that tended toward lifting the economic siege on the Palestinian government. Saeb Erekat, the director of negotiations in the Palestinian Authority, said last week that the PLO recently signed an agreement with SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, that the latter would donate $25 million in aid to the Palestinian people in addition to the aid that Sweden transfers to the Palestinian people by means of UNRWA and other international organizations.
Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr said last week that a number of countries, like France, Spain and Norway, intend to normalize their relations with the Palestinian government.
Different voices are beginning to be heard in the United States as well.
While the U.S. administration is prevented by law from helping a government that is headed by a member of Hamas, which was defined by the United States as a terrorist organization, a spokeswoman for the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem said last week that financial relations with the PLO were not a violation of American law. She was referring to the possibility that the United States might take steps against the PLO similar to the ones being taken against the Hamas government, particularly in light of the recent Palestinian efforts to revive the PLO and the possibility of placing Hamas and Islamic Jihad under the PLO umbrella.
Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayad met last Wednesday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington to discuss the financial restrictions currently placed on the Palestinian government.
Following the meeting, Fayad said that the secretary of state was understanding of the government’s needs to manage its banking affairs without restrictions in order to ensure transparency. Fayad said that the minimum sum the Palestinian government needed to get through 2007 was $ 1.8 billion.
Yet the U.S. government behaves as if this is not a Hamas government, when that is exactly what it is.
Nasrallah’s Deputy: Negotiations Only For A Prisoner Exchange
The Hezbollah secretary-general’s deputy announced during a Hezbollah event in Beirut that serious negotiations were being held for the release of Israeli hostages Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. He said that the two would only be released in exchange for the release of all Lebanese prisoners imprisoned in Israel, including the murderer of the Haran family from Nahariya, the terrorist Samir Kuntar.
Israeli officials confirm that there are indeed significant talks, but say that a breakthrough is still far off.
Sheikh Naim Kassem, who serves as Hassan Nasrallah’s deputy, spoke in a mosque in Lebanon at an event marking the 28th anniversary of the incarceration of Kuntar, who has been serving his sentence in an Israeli prison. He was sentenced to 542 years in prison for the brutal murders of Smadar Haran’s husband and her two small children in Nahariya in 1979. Kassem emphasized that the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers Goldwasser and Regev would only be released in exchange for the release of all Lebanese prisoners imprisoned in Israel. In the past, Israeli governments have opposed the release of Kuntar as long as no real information is received on the fate of missing navigator Ron Arad.
“The negotiations are serious, and when they bring results we will announce it,” said Kassem. “We have agreed not to publish any details about the negotiations in order to ensure their success.”
Upon the end of the Second Lebanon War, the U.N. called to release the soldiers unconditionally. Hezbollah Secretary-General Nasrallah, however, made it clear that the Israeli soldiers would only be released in a prisoner exchange deal.
Israel refused to negotiate the matter directly with Hezbollah, and ultimately agreed to hold negotiations with U.S. mediation. Last September, a U.N. envoy arrived in the region and began the mediation work. Since the indirect negotiations began, Hezbollah has not released any information on the fate of the soldiers and has not provided any sign of life from them. Kassem said Sunday that he hoped that the indirect negotiations with Israel would end in a quick and positive manner. “We are committed to the release of our prisoners, in any deal that is signed. We are optimistic that the Israelis will ultimately agree to this. No other solution is possible for the topic of the prisoners except for a mutual exchange, which will include the release of Samir Kuntar,” said Kassem and was roundly applauded. Among those present at the mosque were also Kuntar’s mother and relatives. Kassem’s statements Sunday are opposed to the statements made by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about a month ago during a visit to Lebanon. Ban voiced disappointment at the “lack of progress in release of Israeli soldiers.”
Israeli officials confirmed that significant talks are being held for the release of the soldiers, but asserted that a breakthrough is still far off. The talks are being conducted through an international mediator acting on behalf of Ki-moon. From Israel’s side, the person in charge of the negotiations is Ofer Dekel, who serves as the coordinator of the issue of POWs and MIAs. The talks have focused so far on Hezbollah’s demand that Israel pay a price for a sign of life from the soldiers, but Israel has rejected this condition.
Syria Deploys Iranian Missiles
The Middle East NewsLine confirms that Syria deployed an Iranian-origin cruise missile.
Israeli Military sources said Syria has obtained and deployed the Iranian version of the Chinese-origin C-802 anti-ship missile. They said the missile was used successfully by Hezbollah during the war against Israel in mid-2006.
“Syria has ordered scores, if not hundreds, of such missiles,” a military source said. “The C-802 would keep the Israel Navy away from the Syrian coast in any future war.”
The C-802 employs a small turbojet engine and contains a range of more than 70 miles. The missile could be launched from aircraft, ships, submarines and land-based vehicles.
Iran imported the C-802 from China in the 1990s and began developing an advanced variant in cooperation with North Korea. A C-802 variant named “Spear” was produced and delivered to Hezbollah and Syria.
The firing of the C-802 marked a surprise for Israel’s navy. At least one Israeli small corvette was struck by the missile and heavily damaged in July 2006. An Egyptian merchant ship was also struck by the missile.
The sources said the military has assessed that Syria was procuring a range of Iranian-, Chinese-, North Korean- and Russian-origin missiles for any future war against Israel. They said Syria has been rebuilding its army and navy with stand-off weapons.
These piece ran in the Philadelphia Bulletin on April 25th, 2007 and April 24th, 2007