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BICOM Daily Briefing October 27 2003

Last updated: 2003-10-27

Following terrorist attacks on Jewish settlements, the continual Palestinian smuggling of weapons through tunnels from Egypt and the Palestinian inaction against the terrorist groups, Israel has been forced to carry out operations in the Gaza Strip. Israel calls upon the Palestinian Authority to take action against the terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip in order to restore calm to the area and create the conditions necessary for a resumption of peace negotiations.

Media Summary:

The Daily Telegraph briefly reports that the Malaysian prime minister has denied being rebuked by US President George W. Bush over his anti-Jewish remarks, while The Times reports that Israel is investigating the possibility of British citizens carrying out terrorist attacks on Israeli targets. The Financial Times reports on the debate over Israeli control of the Gaza settlement of Netzarim following a terrorist attack in which three Israeli soldiers were killed, while The Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Times feature articles on Israel’s security fence.

Quotes of the Day:

IDF operation in the Gaza Strip:

Brigadier General Gadi Shmani, Commander of the Gaza Strip Division (26/10): “Tonight, we dealt with a number of attempted terrorist infiltrations into Israeli communities, IDF bases, and along the roads. It must be understood that the entire Gaza Strip is a first rate producer of terrorism.”

Hamas signals readiness for ceasefire talks with Abu Ala:

Ismail Haniyah, Hamas spokesman (26/10): “Abu Ala sent a letter expressing his wish to meet with top leaders of the organisation. There is no reason not to meet with Abu Ala and preparations are already being made. We'll listen to what Abu Ala has to say and we'll tell him our views.”

Behind the News:

Israeli army on lookout for British terror suspects:

According to The Times, Israeli army officials have asked British security agencies for help in tracking down British Muslims whom they fear may be plotting suicide attacks from Syria. While the officials accept that the vast majority of young men going to Damascus are genuine students, the concern is that potential terrorists can easily slip across Syria’s borders into Israel. The officials say that at least three men travelling on genuine British passports are being sheltered in the Gaza Strip by terrorist groups. The requests being made to British security agencies come after two British citizens - Asif Mohammed Hanif, 21, and Omar Khan Sharif, 27 - carried out a suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv café in April, killing three people and wounding 40. The two had told their families that they were going to study in Damascus.

Security sources believe that up to 50 other British passport-holders have moved to Syria in the past few months, and some of them cannot be traced. A key question is whether men such as Hanif and Sharif were recruited for their mission in Britain or when they reached Damascus. A senior Israeli army officer told The Times that Hanif, who had been in Syria for five months before crossing into Israel, had met leading figures from Hamas in Damascus. The officer claimed to have evidence that Sharif was “activated” for the suicide mission before he left Britain. “We certainly believe there are other British citizens who plan to do the same,” he said. Three times in as many months he said that the Israeli Army had been ordered to track down British passport-holders who came into the country posing as peace demonstrators, just as Hanif and Sharif did.

Palestinian Centre for Public Opinion Poll:

The latest poll published by the PCPO of Palestinian adults from the West Bank and Gaza Strip reveals that 43.7% of Palestinians support, to varying degrees, the appointment of Abu Ala as Prime Minister. 36.1% Palestinians are satisfied to various degrees with the recently formed emergency government. Only 11.6% of those polled thought that if ordered, Fatah should hand over their arms to the Palestinian government, while 56.2% thought that the arms should be hidden. The poll also showed that 32% support to various degrees the Geneva Accords, and 30.9% support to various degrees the holding of political elections in the Palestinian territories.

Abu Ala and Hamas working towards potential ceasefire:

Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Ala has welcomed the prospects of talks with terrorist groups, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. A Hamas spokesman confirmed that the organisation has accepted Abu Ala’s offer for new ceasefire talks. A meeting is expected to take place soon after Abu Ala returns from consultations in Egypt. Hamas leaders are also currently in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials, who are attempting to broker another ceasefire accord, like the one that secured a number of weeks of relative quiet during the summer. However, Abu Ala is still threatening to resign as prime minister next week following disagreements with Yasser Arafat. Israel is insisting that the Palestinian government place all security forces under one command and begin cracking down on the terrorists from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, measures that are rejected by Abu Ala.

Comment and Opinion:

Chris McGreal (The Guardian, 27/10): “The army's claim that tunnels exist is not in doubt. Some of those uncovered are quite sophisticated, with wooden panelling, lighting and even phone lines linking the two ends. The tunnelling began back in the early 1980s under the domination of two Bedouin families who made a small fortune charging fixed fees to smuggle people, cigarettes, drugs and alcohol into Rafah. Even today, a packet of cigarettes is noticeably cheaper in Rafah than in Gaza city.

But the military says their main use of the tunnels today is to shift weapons. "This operation is the inevitable cost that the people of Rafah are paying for the tunnel industry. The trouble is that when no one else is practising law and order, we have to do it ourselves," says an army spokeswoman, Major Sharon Feingold.

The newly homeless in Rafah question what the destruction of their houses has to do with unearthing the tunnels. "Any house used to shoot at the (Israeli) force immediately lost its immunity and was destroyed," says Feingold. "This was partly the reason for so many houses being destroyed. There was a lot of resistance at the beginning of the operation."”

Akiva Eldar (Ha’aretz, 27/10): “Instead of internalising the fact that interest groups are an inseparable part of the democratic game, Muslim leaders invent anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Israel and American Jews. It is easier for them to let racist genies out of the bottle than to admit that more than a billion Muslims worldwide do not do a fraction for their Palestinian brethren of what six million American Jews do for Israel. American Jews would not have allowed tens of thousands of their fellow Jews to languish in refugee camps for more than 50 years. While the Muslims devote their energy and money to internal strife, American Jews devote the bulk of their resources to mobilizing political support for the government of Israel.”


The Israel Daily Briefing is supplied by BICOM