A Digest of DEBKAfile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Two Weeks Ending April 28, 2011

Hamas fires 2 Grads, sets scene by charging Israel in Arrigoni murder


15 April. Hours after Hamas accused Israel of engineering the murder of the abducted Italian pacifist Vittorio Arrigoni in the Gaza Strip Friday, April 15, two Grad missiles exploded in the port-towns of Ashdod and Ashkelon – just five days after Israel agreed to the Palestinian extremists' plea for a ceasefire. debkafile's counter-terror sources report that the Hamas seized the opportunity to exploit the Italian's kidnap and murder by Al Qaeda's Al-Tahwir Al-Jihad to end the informal ceasefire.


Fogel family killers nabbed at neighboring Awarta village


17 April. Israeli police have arrested Hakim Mazen Niad Awad, 17, and Amjad Mahmoud Fawzi, 18, in the West Bank village of Awarta on suspicion of murdering five members of the Fogel family in neighboring Itamar on March 11. They confessed to their ambition as Palestinian nationalists to kill Jews and die as martyrs. They expressed no remorse. Six more Palestinians arrested as accomplices in the crime. The perpetrators used knives to murder their victims after stealing rifles from the Fogel home and an empty house in the village which they handed to "associates in Ramallah."


April 18, 2011 Briefs
• More than 5,000 demonstrators occupied main square of Homs, Syria's third largest city, for sit-in until Assad steps down. Interior ministry called protesters "armed Salafites".
• US President Obama phoned PM Netanyahu with Passover festival greetings for him and Israeli people. They also discussed political and security matters.


Saudis give up on US, instigate Gulf showdown with Iran


19 April. After giving up on US and Israel ever confronting Iran, Saudi Arabia has struck out against the Obama administration for a Gulf campaign to cut down the Islamic Republic's drive for a nuclear bomb and its expansionist meddling in Arab countries for which the US is accused of giving it a clear field, debkafile's sources report. King Abdullah is confident that combined Gulf missile, air force and naval strength are capable of striking deep inside Iran. Its nuclear program is seen in Riyadh as gaining momentum after recovering from cyber war.
Two US emissaries sent to intercede with Saudi King Abdullah – US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on April 6 and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, who arrived in Riyadh six days later – were told that Saudi Arabia had reached a parting-of-the ways with Washington, followed actively by Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.
Abdullah refused to forgive the Americans for throwing former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to the wolves in Cairo and for the unrest they were promoting against Arab regimes.


April 20, 2011 Briefs
• Sarkozy meets leader of Libyan National Council Mustafa Abdel Jalil in Paris, pledges stronger military action against Qaddafi.
• Italy and France to follow Britain in sending military officers to serve at Libyan rebel HQ in Benghazi.
• In Syria, protesters Injured by gunfire shun hospitals where security men wait to finish them off or detain them. The fate of 5,000 detainees is unknown.


Assad's bloody crackdown threatens Syria with sectarian war


20 April. President Bashar Assad, while abrogating Syria's 48-year old emergency laws Tuesday, April 19, immediately replaced them with new draconian measures banning any public protest against his regime and permitting midnight arrests. Our sources reveal the Lebanese Druzes are pumping weapons to their brethren in southern Syria; Lebanese Sunni Muslims are arming Syrian Sunnis in the coastal towns of Banias and Latakia; the Alawites who live mostly in the Aqar province of Lebanon are taking care of their coreligionists on the Syrian side of the border; Christians in the "Lebanese Forces" grouping are smuggling weapons to Syrian Christian villages, while Iraqi and Turkish Kurdish tribes have stepped up their weapons consignments, fighters and activists to the Kurdish community of northern Syria.
Damascus also accuses Saudi Arabia of keep the protest movement afloat with smuggled arms and funds.


Mossad races to pre-empt major Hizballah terrorist attack on Israeli-Jewish targets


21 April. For the first time in Israel's 63-year old battle against terror, its external security agency Mossad Thursday night, April 21, issued a strong warning to travelling Israelis and Jewish institutions to beware of a major terrorist attack which Hizballah had already set in motion at some undisclosed location. The only information offered was that Hizballah had consigned a high-profile team for an operation to avenge the slaying of its top commander Imad Mughniyeh three years ago for which it has blamed Israel.
The only information released was as unusual as the rest of the notice: it was the identities of the Hizballah masterminds who set up, prepared and are running the operation. This is the first time any Western or Middle East intelligence agency has ever released the names of terrorist masterminds before an attack. It normally takes months or even years for their identities to be discovered and even longer for their disclosure.
The Mossad may have put their identities in the public domain in the hope of stalling the Hizballah operation in the nick of time.


Assad to deploy entire army against city protests


April 22. debkafile reports exclusively that Bashar Assad plans to send his entire army out to stamp hard on the fury accompanying scores of funerals Saturday, April 23. The eleven Syrian army divisions are Assad's last card in his fight for survival. Until now, he kept most of them back, sending out to the streets only his trusted security services and 4th Division – both commanded by his younger brother Gen. Maher Assad.
But when Friday's bloodbath failed to keep the rising tide of protest from igniting 16 towns from north to south and encroaching on Damascus and Aleppo, the Syrian president decided to go all the way. He ordered his army chiefs to assume control of security in Syria's main towns and districts and divide the country up into thee military regions, revealed here by debkafile:
Corps No. 1 was given responsibility for the capital Damascus and its outlying towns and districts;
Corps No. 2 took charge of central Syria and the towns of Aleppo, Homs and Hama;
Corps No. 3 spread out in the south and Jebel Druze.
The die was cast by the time the White House issued a statement urging the Syrian government "to cease and desist" its violence against demonstrators. The first Syrian army units were already sighted heading towards the cities, joined for the first time by troops normally on duty on at the Syrian-Israel border.


Two US drones vs Russian arms, Chinese intel for Qaddafi strength


22 April. Arms and military personnel are streaming to Libya. Thursday, April 21, President Barack Obama authorized two armed Predator drones for breaking the siege of Misratah, while British, French and Italian military officers headed for rebel headquarters in Benghazi, part of a military aid package from the US, Britain, France, Italy and Qatar. All this assistance is not enough to tip the scales of the war and topple Muammar Qaddafi, who is restocking his arsenals with Chinese, Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Serbian hardware, along with combat personnel from East Europe and the former Yugoslavia.
Building up in Libya is a confrontation that recalls the 1999 war in Yugoslavia (Serbia today) when NATO hammered Yugoslav forces, who had Chinese and Russian support, to force their retreat from Kosovo.
China is helping Qaddafi with arms and intelligence on NATO strikes (a service like that performed for Serbia in the 1990s). Beijing aims to thwart a US plan to sever Chinese-Libyan oil ties before China invests in transforming the country into its primary African oil and gas supplier. One of the covert functions of the Predators is to destroy Chinese electronic intelligence and weapons systems deployed around Misratah.


April 23, 2011 Briefs
• Yemeni ruler Ali Salah accepts GCC proposal to step down within 30 days. Immunity promised him and family. National unity government will rule Yemen.
• NATO planes bomb Tripoli Saturday night. First US drone attacks in Libya Saturday. Pentagon confirms strike but gives no details of target.


Syrian snipers kill 15 mourners at protesters' funerals Saturday


23 April: Security forces and demonstrators continued to clash Saturday, April 23 in Damascus, Hama, Daraa and nearby Izraa after Friday's bloodbath left more than 100 dead and hundreds injured. Syrian snipers shot dead at least 15 mourners, injured dozens, at the funerals taking place Saturday. Two Syrian lawmakers resigned their seats in protest at security police brutality against civilians.
Saturday, April 23, in his second statement in 24 hours, US President Barack Obama condemned the Syrian regime's "outrageous use of violence" against the protesters saying "it must end now."
In neither statement was the Syrian president urged to step down.
The die was cast by the time the White House issued its first statement of condemnation: Assad's orders to the army had already gone out. In Daraa, epicenter of the movement in the south, a despairing cry in English went up from the crowds in the hope it would reach Washington: "Assad: The game is over! " and "Go and open an eye clinic!"


April 24, 2011 Briefs
• Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak ordered removed from Sharm el-Sheikh hospital to a hospital in a Cairo military prison.
• PM Netanyahu demands harsh steps by Palestinian Authority against those responsible for shooting dead a Jewish worshipper and wounding 4 others at Joseph's Tomb near Nablus early Sunday. Netanyahu abstained from calling the PA policeman who fired the shots a terrorist.
• The group of Hassidim visited the shrine without notifying IDF authorities. Defense Minster Barak said this lapse did not justify murder. The victim was Ben Yosef Livnat, 24, from Jerusalem, father of 4 and nephew of Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat.
• Bahraini Crown Prince declines invite to British royal wedding Friday over unrest in his country.


First Syrian tanks and infantry storm protest centers


24 April. Bashar Assad's tanks and infantry made their first assaults Sunday, April 24 on Jableh on the Mediterranean and Daraa in the south, after a three-day bloodbath by his security forces claiming up to 350 lives failed to break the five-week countrywide uprising against his rule. In Jableh, protesters are barricaded in the Abu Bakr Siddiq Mosque, a Sufi center. The Syrian ruler mobilized the army for a final attempt to smash the revolt against his regime after arresting thousands in Damascus. The growing number of injured are condemned to being treated privately or not at all. The authorities have commandeered ambulances for taking them to hospital.


Syrian tank fire, snipers mow down civilians at random


25 April. Bashar Assad has launched all-out war on his people. Tanks firing artillery, infantry units, commandoes and snipers were deployed for the first time in Syrian cities at daybreak Monday, April 25 for the most brutal assault on any anti-government protesters in the four-month Arab uprising. Hundreds are estimated to have been massacred and thousands injured and left to die in the streets. Syria hopes to conceal the scale of the carnage in Daraa where the protest movement began five weeks ago by shutting its borders with Jordan. Foreign correspondents have been banned from the country. Monday, indiscriminate fire was also reported in Duma, a dissident suburb of the capital Damascus.


NATO fails in bid to kill Muammar Qaddafi


25 April. Hours after US and British figures called for "the head of the snake" in Libya to be cut off, NATO warplanes early Monday, April 25, pulverized a building in Muammar Qaddafi's Bab al-Aziziyah working compound in Tripoli injuring 45 people in another attempt of the Libyan ruler's life.
debkafile: NATO acted outside its UN mandate in frustration over Qaddafi's constant war gains and access to all the cash he needs to bankroll his effort to defeat the NATO-backed rebels.
In Washington, US President Barack Obama faces rising criticism of the inconsistencies in his military policy for Libya. Some Washington sources quote Chinese diplomats as reporting that North Korean interlocutors told them bluntly that if Libya is an example of American prowess, then Pyongyang has nothing to fear from Washington.


April 26, 2011 Briefs
• Gates: US is not targeting Col. Qaddafi specifically. In Washington, British defense secretary urges expansion of NATO's Libya mission, wants Qaddafi targeted.
• Putin: NATO has no right to try and kill Qaddafi. Who gave them permission?
• Syrian armored trucks with machine guns patrol streets of Damascus suburb.
• Germany calls on citizens to leave Syria at once.
• Sarkozy: France won't act against Syria without Security Council authorization.
• Wikileaks discloses identity of a senior Libyan rebel figure as former Guantanamo inmate as "probable al Qaeda member." US army chief Mullen 4 days ago: "I've seen no al Qaeda representation there at all."
• Cairo court opened and adjourned trial of former Egyptian interior minister Habib el-Adly accused of ordering 850 deaths in anti-Mubarak uprising.


Obama dodges action against Syria by turning to Turkish leader


26 April. US President Barack Obama continues to avoid direct action against Bashar Assad's increasingly savage crackdown on dissidents by consolidating his partnership with Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan and together voicing deep concern about the violence in Syria. Assad has thus won another couple of days at least to finish off the brutal purge of his opponents.
debkafile's Washington sources report that Obama's decision to engage Assad through the Turkish leader came on the heels of long conversations with Erdogan in the past weeks. He was well aware that Erdogan was also on the phone almost daily to Bashar Assad and passing on enormously valuable information.
The Obama-Erdogan bid to keep the Syrian pot under control blew up under the pressures of the explosion of long pent-up popular resentment and the extremes to which its heads were willing to go to crush any internal threat to their survival.


April 27, 2011 Briefs
• UN Security Council members fail to agree on a resolution condemning Syrian slaughter of demonstrators.
• Unofficial US sources: CIA chief Leon Panetta to succeed Robert Gates as US defense secretary. Gen. David Petraeus to replace him as CIA director.
• Five EU countries summon Syrian ambassadors to answer questions about the violence.
• Human rights activists cautiously estimate more than 450 dead in Syria.
• The nine people killed in shooting by Afghan air force pilot in Kabul airport Wednesday were American citizens.
• Explosion at Sinai terminal shuts down Egyptian gas pipeline to Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria early Wednesday. The blast started a big fire at the Al Sabil terminal 50 km from the Egyptian-Israeli border near El Arish. The pipeline was sabotaged on Feb. 11. A second attempt last month failed.


Syrian protesters gain anti-tank guns. Iranian officers direct Assad's troops


27 April. For the first time in the anti-Assad uprising, elements of Syria's popular protest movement are turning to armed revolt on lines similar to those marking the Libyan conflict, after discovering the regime's military crackdown is masterminded by Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers. Wednesday, April 27, armed civilians were seen for the first time, some carrying anti-tank weapons, in the Daraa district of the South and Banias and Jableh on the coast, the primary targets of the regime's armored-backed offensive on the six-week old protest movement.


Fatah-Hamas accord – by-product of secret Israel-Turkish talks, Syrian crisis


27 April. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected the unity accord initialed by the two Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas in Cairo April 27: "You can't have peace both with Israel and Hamas," he warned the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, although at least three previous pacts vanished with a trace. He was not alone in being caught napping by the fast work in Cairo; so too were Washington and Ankara, although both are running Palestinian back channels.
This time, the interests of both Palestinian factions are served: It fulfills PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas' ambition to appear before the UN General Assembly in September demanding recognition of Palestinian statehood on behalf of a united people. Hamas' political chief Khaled Meshaal is looking for a new address for his Damascus headquarters. The new Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Alaraby and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) hit on the scheme for pulling the rug from under the US-Turkish-Israeli track which left them out in the cold. Abbas decided his shaky standing would be strengthened by giving Hamas a new foothold on the West Bank.

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