A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Week Ending Jan. 15, 2009

Hamas leadership locked in fierce controversy


9 Jan: Thursday, Hamas leaders and commanders emerged from their underground hideouts for their first look at the devastation wrought in 13 days of Israeli aerial bombardment, taking advantage of the pause Israel declared in its military operations for supplies to reach the Gaza population.

IDF commanders hoped their lust for battle would be cooled by the sight of Gaza in ruins enough to give up and stop fighting.

Hamas leaders are locked in a fierce controversy in both Damascus and Gaza over Egypt's ceasefire proposals. Politburo chief Khaled Meshaal flatly rejects them; Mussa Abu Marzouk would accept them, backed by Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, who maintains that Egypt is Hamas' only remaining lifeline which it dare not jeopardize.

However, the military arm in Gaza and its heads, Khalil al Haya, Said Sayam and Muhammad Jabry, are strongly in favor of severing ties with Egypt and fighting on.

Our sources disclose that the Hamas extremists are finding time for the brutal persecution of their rivals, the Palestinian Fatah. Under cover of the general mayhem, Hamas gangs are kidnapping Fatah operatives and executing them. Their bodies are tossed onto the mountains of uncollected garbage and their kinsmen informed where to find them. Hamas leaders are convinced their rivals are plotting to exploit the fighting to overthrow their regime.


Al Qaeda's operations chief in Pakistan and top aide said killed by US Predator in Waziristan


10 Jan. Al-Qaeda's operations chief in Pakistan Usama al-Kini and his lieutenant, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan were recently killed by a missile fired by a US drone near the Afghan border.

Kini was believed to be behind last year's deadly attack on the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, in which 55 people were killed when a truck packed with explosives rammed the hotel.

Both al-Qaeda suspects died in South Waziristan, on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.


First signs of Hamas cracking, Israel allows Gaza delegation through to Cairo


10 Jan. As Hamas showed first signs of cracking under Israel's massive 14-day assault, three Gaza leaders were allowed by Israel and Egypt to make their way secretly to Cairo for a second round of ceasefire talks – this time without conditions.

debkafile's military sources identify them as: Jemal Abu Hashem, who rarely appears on public, Salah Bardaweel, leader of Hamas parliament faction, and Heiman Ta'a, member of the military wing's command.

They were allowed to go after consenting to an unconditional ceasefire, dropping their demand for open Gaza crossings and accepting that Israeli forces would hold their present lines.

In overnight fighting Friday, five Israel soldiers were injured and 15 Hamas operatives killed. Forty Israeli operations destroyed five tunnels, 14 missile stores and production sites.

Israel held its fire for three hours Saturday for fresh aid supplies to reach the Gaza population.


US consigns 3,000 tonnes of US “ammunition” to Israel


10 Jan. The US Navy's Military Sealift Command is hiring a merchant ship to carry the arms on two separate journeys from the Greek port of Astakos to Israel in mid-to-late January. A 'hazardous material” designation on the manifest mentions explosive substances and detonators, but no other details. One broker said that the size of a shipment of this kind has not been seen for years.

debkafile's military sources note that the Israel's air, ground, tank and sea offensive against Hamas in Gaza entered its 15th day Saturday, Jan. 10.


US Congress' overwhelming support for Israel


10 Jan. The US Senate on Thursday backed Israel's battle against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip and the House of Representatives followed on Friday in landslide votes.

The House passed a resolution “recognizing Israel's right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza” by 390-5. The measure noted that the humanitarian situation in Gaza “is becoming more acute” but did not rebuke Israel.

The Senate measure offered “unwavering commitment” to Israel. It recognized “its right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism” and urged a ceasefire that would keep Hamas from firing rockets at Israel.


First pro-Israeli demos in London, Frankfurt, Marseille, Lyon


11 Jan. 40,000 Jews and Christians rallied in support of Israel against Hamas terror in London's Trafalgar Sq. Monday. Sunday night, pro-Hamas protesters clashed with London police outside the Israel embassy.


No new decisions by the Israeli cabinet


11 Jan. IDF Military Intelligence Head Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin on Sunday briefed cabinet ministers on the Gaza operation, stressing the cracks in Hamas resilience, its disconnected leadership in Syria, and its waning public support following the extensive Israeli attacks on the organization. But he predicted that Hamas was still capable of striking Israel.

He pointed out that Hamas fighters were evading encounters with Israeli forces, hiding in built-up urban areas and hoping to gain the advantage by “remote control” tactics.

In his view, Hamas is scared of more fighting and looking for an honorable escape that offers an end to the hostilities without requiring its forces to show a white flag.

Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin noted that alongside the anger over Israeli bombardments, Gazans were angry at Hamas for bringing down such devastation on the Strip. He also noted that Hamas was using the ongoing clashes in the Strip as an excuse to execute Fatah supporters.

Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim said bluntly: “If we don't expose the infrastructure, including the missile-production lines, and take control of the Philadelphi Corridor, I think that in the next round [of violent confrontations] we will be hit by longer-range missiles and as yet unused weaponry, such as anti-aircraft cannons.”

Hamas fired rockets during one of Israel's daily three-hour military pauses for the ingress of essential supplies to the Palestinian population. They hit Sderot, Kiryat Malachi, Eshkol, and an Ashkelon school and kindergarten.

Since Dec. 27, Hamas missiles have demolished 900 buildings in Israel, hundreds of vehicles, damaged many farms.


Two Israeli-Arab lists barred from February poll – for “supporting the enemy”


12 Jan. Israel's Central Elections Committee voted Monday, Jan. 12, to exclude the United Arab List and Balad from participating in the Feb. 10 general election. The High Court must rule on their appeal by Friday, the final date for registering Knesset lists.

The ruling Kadima and Labor factions supported the ban's petition by the opposition Israel Beitenu and the National Union, which argued that Balad rejects Israeli statehood on principle. They also invoked a Basic Law section banning the participation in elections of a party that supports armed struggle against Israel by an enemy state or terrorist organization.

The last party to be banned in Israel was Rabbi Meir Cahane's Kach in the 1980s for advocating the transfer of Arab citizens out of the country.


Hamas-Gaza bows to Damascus leaders' veto against Egyptian ceasefire terms


12 Jan. The Gaza Hamas faction failed to persuade its Damascus leaders to accept the Egyptian ceasefire terms and was ordered to carry on fighting in the Gaza Strip. This setback followed 48 hours of optimism in Jerusalem and Cairo where it had been hoped that with their backs to the wall, the Palestinian extremists would submit to the tough Egyptian-Israeli ultimatum. It is now up to the Israeli defense cabinet to decide whether Israeli forces stand still on their present battle lines or go forward to the crunch, which means entering Gaza City proper and capturing the Philadelphi smuggling corridor.


UK intel chief reports links uncovered between Mumbai terrorists and UK nationals


13 Jan. Britain's intelligence service MI5 chief says his agency has uncovered links between the Mumbai attackers and UK nationals.

“We have looked at individuals' communications, where they have been and so on and found they have got connections with most countries including the UK,” said MI5 Director General Jonathan Evans.


A Russian naval task force led by aircraft carrier docks in Syrian port


13 Jan. The Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, the Admiral Levchenko destroyer and the Nikolay Chiker salvage tug, called in at the Syrian port of Tartus Monday, Jan. 12 after joint exercises with the Turkish navy.

debkafile's military sources report that the arrival of the Russian flotilla in wartime is unusual and especially significant given Syria's role as one of the staunchest backers of Hamas which is fighting Israel further down the coast in Gaza. Our sources believe Moscow may be signaling its disapproval of Israel's military operation in the Gaza Strip.


Iran recruits Somali pirates to replenish Hamas ordnance stocks


13 Jan. debkafile's military sources reveal a secret war waged by the US, Israel and Egypt to shut down Iran's serpentine maritime routes through the Red Sea and Suez for refilling Hamas' depleted arsenal by sea. After Hamas lost an estimated 60 percent of its weapons stocks in Israeli bombardments, Iran enlisted Somali pirates to help bring smuggled hardware to Gaza to stiffen the Palestinian Islamists' resistance to Egypt's ceasefire terms.


Iranian aid ship turned back in two attempts to break Gaza blockade


14 Jan. An Iranian “Shahed” was turned back by an Israel Navy Saar 4.5 ship Tuesday, Jan 13, and again Wednesday, attempting to breach the 40-km blockade Israel imposed on Gaza on Dec. 27. After the first try, the boat tried to unload its cargo of food, medicines and clothing at Port Said and was prevented by the Egyptian authorities. After being intercepted by the Israeli Navy again Wednesday, the Iranian vessel turned south to the Sinai port of El Arish. Two Egyptian boats prevented it docking.


Mubarak sends son-and-heir Gemal to assess Philadelphi situation


14 Jan. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak sent his son Gemal (Jimmy) to see for himself the true situation on the strategic Philadelphi Corridor running along the Gazan-Sinai border, debkafile's intelligence sources reveal.

Our military sources explain the lack of progress in the Egyptian-Hamas ceasefire talks in the last 48 hours by the easing of military pressure on Hamas. Israeli forces have confined operations to aerial bombardment and the occasional exchange of fire on the ground. They are essentially holding back and waiting for cabinet orders to go for the decisive push into the densely-populated areas of Gaza City and the Philadelphi Corridor.


Israel intelligence: Hizballah is synchronizing rocket offensive with Hamas


15 Jan. After the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shemona sustained a rocket salvo Wednesday, Jan. 14, the Israeli Air Force stepped up its reconnaissance flights over South Lebanon in search of rocket launchers. Like the Palestinian Hamas, Lebanese Hizballah chiefs appear to believe that Israel's policy-makers will refrain from a resounding military assault to smash Hamas' military strength in Gaza. Therefore, Hamas is believed by Israel's Northern Command to be preparing more rocket attacks in sync with its terrorist allies in Gaza. And indeed, the Kiryat Shemona attack turned out to be the overture for a long-range missile-rocket cascade from Gaza against a wide range of Israeli population centers. Both believe a two-front rocket offensive will enhance Hamas' bargaining position in the ceasefire negotiations.


Emerging Gaza ceasefire allows Hamas to restock rockets and fire them


15 Jan. The Egyptian-Hamas ceasefire accord presented to Israel as no better than a repeat formula of last year's failed informal truce, which led to the outbreak of the current Gaza fighting. One senior officer told us: “For this we didn't have to go to war.”

The understandings Egypt is fashioning will tie Israel's military hands and let Hamas claim it is ahead after Israel refrained from either toppling its Gaza government or extinguishing its missile capabilities. Though vanquished on the battlefield, the Hamas terrorists are winning the diplomatic war.

Thursday, Jan. 15, two Israeli envoys headed out – the foreign ministry's director general Aharon Ambramovich to Washington and the defense ministry's political adviser Amos Gilead to Cairo – to hear about the proposed American and Egyptian ceasefire mechanisms for controlling weapons smuggling through Sinai and the Philadelphi Corridor. debkafile's military sources note that even if the two mechanisms are agreed, they will take a year or more to put in place, during which time Hamas will be free to restock its arsenals and resume firing rockets.


Israel air strike kills top Hamas leader, interior minister Siad Sayam


15 Jan. Hamas interior minister Siad Sayam died in an Israeli aerial bombardment over Gaza, Thursday, January 15, as the third week of Israel's offensive ended. Killed with him were his brother, Salah Abu Sarah, head of the organization's security service and Mahmoud Watfa, commander of Hamas military wing. In Damascus, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal declared there would be no concessions for a ceasefire.

The Shin Bet security service discovered the top Hamas leaders' whereabouts in Gaza with exceptional speed two weeks after Sayam's brother rented the hideout when the war was already underway. Its precise targeting indicates Israeli intelligence has penetrated the top Hamas echelon.

debkafile's sources report that Israel is racing against time to prevail over Hamas before an enforced ceasefire cuts the campaign short before its goals are achieved.

Thursday, Beersheba came under heavy rocket attack, which injured six people, as Hamas stepped up its attacks. Israeli artillery struck UNWRA's Gaza City HQ, starting a fire. Israel forces continued to chew aroujnd the edges of Gaza City – purging the already occupied outskirts of Shatti, Zeitun, Tofah, Tel El Hawa and Saltin without pushing into the densely-packed town alleys.

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