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BICOM Daily Briefing January 15 2004

Last updated: 2004-01-15

Coverage of Israel in the world media today centres on yesterday’s suicide bombing at the Erez checkpoint, in which four Israelis were killed. All the UK papers have full reports on the attack, all highlighting the fact that the terrorist, a member of Hamas, was a woman and the mother of two children. Some of the papers quote from the videotape left by the bomber before the attack, in which she expresses her desire to become ‘shrapnel’ in order to ‘kill Zionists.’  All Israeli papers also have extensive coverage of the attack and its implications.

In other news, the British media reports extensively on the death of International Solidarity Movement activist Tom Hurndall, who died in hospital Tuesday night, and the arrest and indictment of an Israeli soldier in connection with Hurndall’s death. The Independent has a leader article which comments on the likely effects this incident will have on Israel’s image in the world, whilst the Daily Telegraph looks at the activities of the International Solidarity Movement and its links to terror. In other news, BBC Online and Reuters report statements by Syrian officials that peace with Israel is an impossibility for as long as Ariel Sharon is Prime Minister.

All Israeli papers lead with the suicide attack in Gaza. Haaretz features a report on US Senator Bill Nelson’s impressions of the Syrian leader after his recent visit to Damascus. The paper also has a piece outlining Trade and Industry Minister Ehud Olmert’s doubts regarding implementation of the Road Map, as well as an interview with Ireland's Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, who begins an official visit to Israel today. Maariv reports the plans by the Council of Jewish communities in the West Bank and Gaza to name an outpost after Ro’i Arbel, who was killed by terrorists outside Talmon on Tuesday. Yediot Ahronot, meanwhile has an article quoting an un-named senior security official who details plans to try and use the threat of unilateral measures to oblige the PA to act against terror.

Quotes of the Day:

Ireland's Foreign Minister on EU policy towards Israel

Brian Cowen, Irish Foreign Minister (Haaretz, 15/01): “I am aware that a simplistic view exists regarding the EU policy toward Israel. Unfortunately, in the past this rather simplistic view was the idea of the U.S. as a proxy for Israeli arguments and the EU as the proxy of the Arab world and the Arabs and specifically the Palestinians. This is a simplistic and inaccurate reflection of the real and true situation. It is unfortunate that it still persists ... because the EU, both in terms of geographic terms and trade imports, is an important partner of Israel.”

Suicide bomber kills four Israelis at Erez checkpoint

Col. Yoav Mordechai, Commander of the DCO at Erez, (Jerusalem Post, 15/01): “The suicide bomber took advantage of her gender, knowing that she would not be asked to lift her clothes as the males are to ensure they have no explosives strapped to their bodies. She also took advantage of her medical situation.”

Ashur Salha, Palestinian factory owner at Erez, (Jerusalem Post, 15/01): “Of course I'm angry at her [the bomber]. This is not only the place where we work, but our home...Whoever ordered the bombing must have known that 30,000 mouths depend on our employment here. After all, this hurts us [the Palestinians] much more than it does the Israelis.”

Israel willing to make concessions for peace

Ehud Olmert, Trade and Industry Minister (Jerusalem Post, 15/1): "We will pull out from any area that is not necessary for the security of the State of Israel and which is densely populated by Palestinians…It will not be easy, it will be heartbreaking and very painful. But we come to the conclusion that we have to break the cycle. We have to break the cycle of violence, the cycle of hatred, the cycle of viciousness, the cycle of blood."

Behind the News:

Female suicide bomber kills four at Erez checkpoint

Four Israelis were killed yesterday, when a Hamas member carried out a suicide attack at the Erez checkpoint. The fact that the bomber was female represents a new approach for the Hamas organisation. While other Palestinian terror groups, including Islamic Jihad, have used women as human bombs in the past, yesterday’s incident is the first example of Hamas employing this practice. The bomber took advantage of special considerations afforded Palestinian women in Israeli procedures, in carrying out her attack. To protect their dignity, search procedures for Palestinian women stipulate that if a physical examination proves necessary, it must be carried out in a side room and by a female guard. An alarm went off as the bomber passed through the metal detector. As a female guard prepared to examine her, the bomber advanced into the terminal and detonated the explosive belt she was wearing. The device contained around five kilos of explosive material. In addition to the four killed, nine others were wounded. The wounded include the female guard, and a Palestinian woman.
Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz imposed a 24 hour closure on the Gaza Strip following the attack. Palestinian Authority officials refused to condemn the attack, with Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia declaring that Israeli aggression and restrictions on Palestinians were to blame for it. Voice of Palestine Radio, the official station of the Palestinian Authority, showered praise on the Hamas bomber. The channel greeted the news of the attack with enthusiastic support, declaring in its 16:00 news broadcast that “Citizen Reem al-Riashi was heroically martyred when she carried out an explosive operation at the Beit Hanoun Junction,killing four soldiers of the occupation.” The broadcast blamed Israel for the attack.

International Solidarity Movement activist dies

British ISM (International Solidarity Movement) member Tom Hurndall died on Tuesday night of injuries sustained when the 22 year old was shot by an Israeli soldier during an incident in the Gaza Strip nine months ago. An IDF soldier has been arrested and charged with manslaughter in connection with the shooting. Following news of Hurndall’s death, the Embassy of Israel in London issued a statement expressing deep sorrow at the death and sending deep condolences and sympathy to his family and friends. “The Israeli Government views this tragic event with the utmost severity, and is acting to ensure that justice is served. After a full and independent investigation, charges have been brought against an IDF soldier in connection with the shooting of Mr Hurndall, and a trial will take place. The Israeli Government is fully cooperating with the British Government on this matter.”

US: We don’t like Assad, Israel may talk to him if it wishes to

US Democrat Senator Bill Nelson (Florida) met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus last week, and asked him a series of searching questions concerning Syrian support for terror organisations. Haaretz reports that Nelson described Assad as evasive in his responses. The Syrian president denied that the presence of what he called a ‘handful’ of members of Palestinian terror groups constituted a problem. He further repudiated reports in the Daily Telegraph that he had said that Syria had a right to stockpile chemical and biological weapons as a counter-balance to Israel’s alleged nuclear capacity.

The US is in the process of reviewing its policy toward Syria, with limited sanctions on Damascus expected to be imposed by the administration in the near future.

Comment and Opinion:

The Daily Telegraph (15/01): “The International Solidarity Movement is often described as a peace group but its founders back the Palestinian right to wage an "armed struggle". Launched in 2001, the ISM says it uses "non-violent direct action" in the style of Gandhi, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Dr Martin Luther King.

A closer look reveals that the leadership sees volunteers not as pacifists but as combatants on the Palestinian side. In a 2002 article, the movement's co-founders, Adam Shapiro, a New York Jew, and Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian Christian, urged: "The Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics, both non-violent and violent." Mr Shapiro and Miss Arraf predicted that "yes, people will get killed and injured" and suggested that the casualties "would be considered shaheed", using the Arabic term for martyrs applied to suicide bombers.

In its mission statement, the movement says that, for Palestinians, "armed struggle" is "their right". Activists have shown their hatred for the Jewish state. " 'Israel' is an illegal entity that should not exist," wrote Flo Rosovski, an ISM "media co-ordinator" who was deported last year.

Some links between ISM activists and Palestinian terrorists have emerged. Less than two weeks after Corrie's death, ISM members allegedly tried to prevent Israeli troops from searching their office in Jenin in the West Bank. When the soldiers forced their way in, they discovered Shadi Sukia, a leading member of Islamic Jihad. The movement claimed that it had known nothing about Sukia but had simply offered him tea, clothes and a blanket when he appeared unannounced off the street.

ISM members also shared tea with Omar Khan Sharif and Assif Muhammad Hanif, Britons who visited the site of Corrie's death with the group last April before carrying out a suicide attack on Mike's Place, a Tel Aviv pub, killing three and injuring dozens.”

Haaretz (15/01): “Nothing has done more to tarnish the image of the Palestinian national movement than suicide bombings. After more than a hundred bombings have left over a thousand Israeli civilians dead and wounded, the exhaustively cultivated image of underage Palestinian Davids facing down machinegun-toting Israeli Goliaths with nothing more than stones, has yielded to grotesque scenes of blood-flooded restaurants, wedding halls, commuter buses, dance clubs, coffee shops, and street corners.

Nothing has done more to align Palestinians in the foreign - especially the American - mind with the feared and loathed likes of Al-Qaida. Nothing has done more to dishearten the Israeli left and to alienate it from the Palestinian cause. Nothing, in fact, has done more to fortify the arguments of the Israeli right than suicide bombings, as attacks in the hearts of Israeli cities added weight to the bottom-line claim of the settler movement: that Palestinians make no distinction between Tel Aviv and Tel Romeida - nor between Israeli soldiers, settlers, or leftist bleeding-hearts - and that their true goal is the eradication of the entirety of the Jewish state and the annihilation or exile of its non-Arab inhabitants.

Why, then, do armed Palestinian movements continue to order and execute suicide blasts?

After all, suicide bombings have prompted Israel to take and justify the precise measures most hated by grass-roots Palestinians - assassination airstrikes that kill admired militant commanders as well as innocent civilians trapped in the path of helicopter-borne missiles; wholesale military blockades, movement restrictions, midnight arrest raids, curfews and checkpoint humiliations; and, most prominently, the hated security barrier winding astride and into the West Bank.

In short, nothing in recent years has prolonged, expanded, institutionalized and intensified the occupation more than suicide bombings.

For the ideologues of militancy, of course, that is just the point.

Palestinian militants, bitter opponents of Israeli-Arab peace talks, have long been aware of the potency of suicide bombings in shaping Middle East diplomacy and politics. They have seen how a lone bomber can halt an entire peace process in its tracks. They have also seen how a spate of bombings can bring down an Israeli government, as then-premier Shimon Peres learned in 1996.”


Israe Briefing supplied by BICOM