A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending April 10, 2008

Bipartisan US House resolution 185 would declare Jewish, Palestinian 1948 refugees equal


3 April: It was introduced by Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Mike Ferguson (R-NJ).

From 1948, 850,000 Jews were attacked, dispossessed and expelled from 10 Arab lands, where some Jewish communities had existed for 2,500 years. The number of Jewish refugees exceeds Arab refugees from Israel by more than 100,000 (United Nations Conciliation Commission, October 23, 1950).

All prior UN resolutions referred only to Arab refugees. The new nonbinding resolution affirms for the first time that the U.S. government must now recognize that all victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict must be treated equally. It further urges that, as a member of the Middle East Quartet, the President and U.S. officials ensure that any reference to Palestinian refugees must henceforth “also include a similarly explicit reference to the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.”


Knesset approves Army Reservists Law


3 April: Reserve soldiers’ service was limited to 54 days in 3 years, commanders to 70, officers to 84. Under the new law, they will all receive a 2 pc tax break.

Unemployed and minimum wage earners will be paid the equivalent of $1,530 for every month they serve.


Egypt‘s gas contracts with Israel at stake as Mubarak seeks to cool peace relations


4 April: debkafile‘s Middle East sources report that scholars at Cairo’s al Azhar University have issued an edict barring the sale of Egyptian oil and gas to “the Zionist enemy” as a betrayal of Islam. Ministers and lawmakers from all of Egypt’s parties are for the first time raising questions about the15-year gas contract signed in 2005.

Our Cairo sources affirm that none of them would have ventured to question fuel sales to Israel without President Hosni Mubarak’s nod.

The contract worth $2.6 million covers the sale of 1.7 cu. m of liquefied natural gas per year for 15 years to the Israeli Electricity Company at $1.5/million British thermal units (Btu). A 100-km undersea pipeline was built to carry the gas from El Arish in northern Sinai to Israel’s Ashkelon port.

It did not start flowing last month as scheduled because the pipeline was said to be technically unfit.


New round of Palestinian attacks from Gaza day after Israeli minister targeted


5 April: A missile exploded Saturday, April 5, in Ashkelon’s industrial zone; mortar, automatic and anti-tank fire targeted an Israeli military border patrol near Nahal Oz. Friday, Palestinians sniper fire missed internal security minister Avi Dichter, and injured his chief of bureau Matti Gil while leading a Canadian party around Sderot and other communities targeted for the missile offensive from Gaza.

Israeli troops returned the fire and entered the Gaza Strip to chase the shooters. The party was evacuated to a nearby army base. The minister, who often spends Fridays visiting Sderot and other communities under fire, has been targeted before. Last month, a Katyusha rocket from Gaza hit the home of his next-door neighbor in Ashkelon. Later, one of his bodyguards was injured when he inspected missile damage at the Sapir College outside Sderot.


Internal security chief cautions against West Bank roadblocks’ removal


6 April: In his briefing to the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin warned that as long as there were gaps in the West Bank security barrier, the roadblocks must not be removed. He said the government must allocate funds to finish the barrier. Before the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice ended her visit to Israel last week week, defense minister Ehud Barak responded to her demand for “meaningful” Israeli steps to ease Palestinians’ lives, by promising to remove 50 West Bank “dirt roadblocks” and one checkpoint outside Jericho.

Diskin also reported that while Hamas has slowed its missile attacks from Gaza, it allows allied organizations to continue shooting.

Prime minister Ehud Olmert remarked that it does not matter who does the shooting, Hamas is the responsible authority in the Gaza Strip.


Yemeni Shiite rebels destroy empty house of top rabbi Yehia Youssuf in Saada


6 April: Most of Saada’s 200 Jews have moved to the Yemeni capital Sanaa to escape persecution amid government-rebel clashes. Residents said the assailants from a group opposed to the U.S.-allied government turned to the houses of other Jews after razing the rabbi’s vacant home.

About 200 Yemeni Jews who lived in Saada, including Youssef, have moved to the capital.


Iran, Syria, Lebanon on military alert in over US Gulf movements and Israel’s home defense drill


6 April: War tensions in the Middle East have shot up – not only over the signals flashing between Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, but also in the wake of the Basra conflagration.

Official sources in London predict that Iran’s intervention against the American effort to stabilize Iraq may prompt a US attack on the military installations in Iran.

Moscow has dropped its two nickels into the rising war alarm by leaking claims of intensified American military movements around Iranian shores.

Saturday, US defense secretary Robert Gates turned up in Oman for talks with Sultan Qaboos. He then flew straight back to Washington.

debkafile‘s Middle East sources sum up how Tehran and Damascus read these events:

1. US is preparing to attack the Iranian military installations linked to subversion in Iraq. The operation will widen out into strikes on the Islamic Republic’s suspect nuclear sites.

2. Israel will use the chance for a concurrent attack on Israel.

3. Israel will attack Hizballah’s strongholds in Lebanon.

4. A broad, coordinated US-Israeli offensive will be mounted against Iran, Syria and Hizballah.

Iran and Syria view Israel’s four-day home defense exercise against missile attack, conventional or non-conventional, beginning Sunday, as setting the stage for these attacks. Both believe Washington and Jerusalem are in close military step.


Major row in Assad regime defers Sunday publication of Mughniyeh probe findings


7 April: debkafile‘s Middle East and intelligence sources report that President Bashar Assad has fallen out with his brother-in-law Gen. Asif Shawqat, sacked him as military intelligence chief and appointed Gen. Aly Younes in his place.

Shawqat has not been seen in the capital for three weeks. Several intelligence officers were reported arrested in Damascus Monday, April 17.

The apparent downfall of Syria’s strongman is seen as symptomatic of a fierce rift in the top level of Syrian government. Some Middle East sources report that Washington and Jerusalem are trying to turn it to their advantage.

The final breach with Shawqat occurred when Assad took out of his hands the wording of the Mughniyeh report and transferred it to Gen. Younes. Another bone of contention between themwas Shawqat’s insistence that if a limited military engagement between Syria and Israel is to be, then better now, when Damascus, Hizballah and Hamas can call the shots, rather than the summer when the US and Israel will have the upper hand.

The sacked intelligence chief is reported to have moved to a military intelligence base in northern Syria to be among loyal officers and men.


Fatah and Hamas reach framework accord in three weeks of secret talks


7 April: debkafile‘s Middle East sources report that direct covert talks between Palestinian Authority Chairman, the Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal have been going on for three weeks and yielded a five-part framework accord.

The two parties endeavored to keep their channel under cover after Abbas promised President George W. Bush he would never negotiate with Hamas.

Both US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert are well aware of Abbas’ underhand track but are keeping it dark to avoid embarrassment. The three main points of accord are:-

1. The Fatah leader will accept a Hamas invitation to visit the Gaza Strip, but only after he is satisfied he has extracted all he can from the US and Israel.

2. A national Palestinian unity government will be set up with ministerial portfolios held neither by Fatah or Hamas politicians but experts.

3. Early presidential elections will be held. Both parties guarantee to abide by the rules laid down in the 2006 charter and accept any results.

debkafile‘s sources report that the radical jihadist Hamas has the numbers for a majority and is able to wrest control of the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip through the ballot box without firing a shot.


Ahmadinejad denies al Qaeda’s 9/11 attack on America


8 April: For Iran’s Nuclear Technology day, April 8, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad raised doubts about whether the al Qaeda attack on New York actually took place on Sept. 11, 2001. In his most provocative anti-US speech to date, he asked why the US had never released the names of the thousands of dead in the Trade Center attacks and how the most advanced security, intelligence and tracking devices in the world had failed to detect the hijackers’ planes before they struck the two New York towers.

Ahmadinejad is famous also for denying the Nazi Holocaust.

Announcing earlier that Iran had begun installing 6,000 new advanced (P2) centrifuges for uranium enrichment at Natanz, the Iranian president claimed his country’s nuclear program had passed the point of no-return.


Israel‘s five-day missile defense exercise exposes unready home front


8 April: debkafile‘s military sources report that the drill has had two consequences: It showed the home front as no readier for missile attack than it was when Hizballah launched its rocket blitz in 2006; and, second, it infected the entire region with war fever.

The defense cabinet, playing its role in the practice, talked about setting up tent cities for refugees from blasted or contaminated towns.

Security experts point out that the evacuation of tens or hundreds of thousands of people from their homes to temporary shelter is a non-starter. There is no system to support tent cities and, because Israel is so small, nowhere to put them that would be safe from attack.

debkafile‘s military sources ask: Instead of wasting time, energy and money on a pointless drill, why does the Olmert government not pull itself out of its fatal inertia and finally use the armed forces for its key preventive mission which is to wipe out the tens of thousands of missiles and rockets piled up on Israel’s borders by Iran and Syria before it is too late?


Two Israeli civilians murdered by Palestinians storming the Israel-Gaza fuel terminal Wednesday


9 April: The two men, both from Beersheba, were employed at the Nahal Oz fuel terminal which supplies the Gaza Strip with energy products from Israel. debkafile‘s military sources report 4 Palestinian gunmen breached the border fence on April 9 in a well-planned raid, under cover of heavy mortar and rocket fire. Israeli forces returned the fire killing two of the assailants. The other two fled into Gaza – one was later killed, the second injured – as Israeli tanks drove into the territory in hot pursuit with air support.

Israeli spokesmen said Hamas, as the governing authority of the Gaza Strip, is responsible for the attack on the terminal, through which 4 million liters of fuel, petrol and heavy oil pass every week to Gaza. Hamas and Palestinian leaders have no cause to complain about an Israeli blockade when they destroy their own energy lifeline.

Earlier, an Israeli soldier was killed and two wounded in a firefight during an operation in southern Gaza to stop the gunfire plaguing Israeli farmers.

Tuesday, Palestinians fired 7 Qassam missiles at Israel civilians. In northern Gaza, a concealed tunnel opening was found, apparently for terrorists to steal into Israel under the border.


Egyptian threat deters Hamas from second bid to smash through Gaza border


10 April: debkafile‘s military sources report that a tough Egyptian message put Hamas off its planned second attempt to smash through the Gaza border to Egyptian Sinai. Cairo warned that, this time, illegal Palestinians entrants would be “shot down like rats.” To drive the message home, convoys of Egyptian truck with visible firing positions and open crates of ammo have been driving up and down the Gaza border past the new wall they have built the length of the Philadelphi border strip.

Egyptian security forces began massing on the Sinai side of Rafah after Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya announced Tuesday that the next Palestinian breakthrough to Sinai would be broader and extend to all of Gaza’s borders.(Its only other one is with Israel)


Two Palestinians sent by Hizballah to poison Tel Aviv restaurant food


10 April: The two men from the Balata refugee camp in Nablus were arrested by Israeli security Shin Bet officers last month before they could carry out their mission on behalf of the Lebanese Hizballah. They belong to a Hizballah-controlled Fatah wing in Nablus. The Tel Aviv Grill Express at the Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan hired them as kitchen workers. They were caught before they had a change to apply colorless, tasteless and odorless poison to the food set before Israeli customers. The poison was to have acted only after four hours, time enough to murder a large number of diners.

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