A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending March 9, 2006

Fatah-al Aqsa Brigades gang plotted mortar blitz of southern Jerusalem


7 March: The Fatah gang was 12 strong; it had deployed in Bethlehem 8 mortars, 0.3 mm machine guns and a stock of shells and ammo. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources report that Israeli security forces stepped in to foil the attack in the nick of time; the hardware was already in position for a coordinated shelling and shooting bombardments of the Gilo and Har Homa districts of the capital which abut on Bethlehem.

Eight of the mortars were home-made improvisations. The discovery that Fatah was manufacturing mortar-type weapons on the West Bank was alarming.


Radical Hamas-Damascus gains control of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood


7 March: Fresh from their triumphal visit to Moscow, Damascus-based leaders of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal and Musa Abu Marzuk have recorded another success. Their proteges, Salem Felaikhat and Jamil Abu Bakr, were elected in secret ballots chief and deputy leader, respectively, of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood. They displaced the General Guide of the movement’s Shura Council, Abdel Majid Zenaibet.

This development places the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch, namely Hamas, in control of the Jordanian group. In particular, the hardline Meshaal will be in a position to run both MB-Jordan and Hamas-Gaza from his Damascus politburo office.

While the MB’s new Jordanian leaders are seen as pragmatic moderates in some respects, they are staunchly hostile to Israel and any peace moves, and will take their lead on Palestine from their Damascus masters.


Hamas curtails Abu Mazen’s powers by parliamentary putsch


6 March: In three stormy hours, the Islamic terror group Monday, March 6, revoked the power-enhancing laws Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas carried through on Feb. 13, when his Fatah still held a majority in the legislature.

Before the January election, Abu Mazen carried through parliament a law creating a new constitutional court, whose handpicked judges were empowered to dissolve the legislature and reverse laws.

Hamas did away with these laws at the new parliament’s first sitting in Ramallah and Gaza City.

Fatah deputies, refusing to resign themselves to being pushed out of government by the Palestinian electorate, made the mistake of marching out of the assembly chamber before the vote. debkafile adds: Both Washington and Jerusalem expected the Palestinian parliament to devote its first sitting to procedural matters. Their intelligence eyes and ears failed to prepare them for the rapid-fire Hamas stroke to cut Abu Mazen down. Now, it is too late to turn the clock back. Abbas, instead of filling the role of counterweight to Hamas and a force for peacemaking, was defeated hands down in his first encounter with Hamas.


Al Qaeda Leader Catches Jerusalem, Hamas and Fatah – All at Crossroads


5 March: Former Shin Beit director Avi Dichter rattled the party’s dovecote when he stated Sunday, March 5, that the Middle East road map is dead for lack of a Palestinian negotiating partner, since Hamas was elected.

He also injected some badly needed security steel into Kadima’s sagging campaign for the March 28 general election with a warning to Hamas’ designated Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniya: “Lead the government onto the road of murder and terror, and you will find yourself again behind bars or even in your old job as the late Sheikh Yasin’s chef to bureau.

Dichter was the first authoritative party spokesman to issue an unambiguous statement on Hamas’ rise to power. He instantly touched off controversy, thereby exposing the inability of Israel’s national leaders to chart a clear policy on this vital issue.

The Palestinian side is also pretty much at sea.

debkafile‘s exclusive sources report a secret rendezvous Haniya held that Saturday, March 4, with a group of members of the Fatah Revolutionary Council led by Abdullah Horani. They met at the Grand Beach Hotel in Gaza.

Since losing the January election, Fatah and its leader Mahmoud Abbas have been unable to decide whether to accept Hamas’s invitation to join a coalition government. The Horani faction promised Saturday to defy a negative Fatah decision and cross the floor to Hamas, because its members disapprove of Abbas’s goal of sitting down with the Israelis to negotiate a final-status peace accord. Like Hamas, this Fatah group maintains the inalienable right of all 1948 refugees to return to their former homes in pre-state Israel.

According to debkafile‘s Palestinian sources, the Fatah opposition group is in fact a front for Fatah hardliner Farouk Kadoumi.


Hamas is warmly welcomed in Moscow


5 March: debkafile‘s Moscow sources report: Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov made only a mild request of the six-man Hamas delegation led by Damascus-based politburo chief Khaled Meshaal which arrived in Moscow Friday, March 3: “We are counting on Hamas, as the leading political force in the (Palestinian) parliament and future government to contribute to the full and all-encompassing implementation of all previous agreements.”

He added: “In this, our Palestinian friends can count on the support of Russia both in a bilateral sense and from Russia as a member of the Quartet of international mediators and as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.”

This is interpreted as an offer not only of Russian friendship, but the protection of its veto power at the Security Council against Israeli complaints of Hamas terrorist activity.

Lavrov refrained from commenting on Mohammed Nazzal’s declaration on arrival: “We will not recognize Israel. The issue of recognition is a done issue.”

An unannounced arrival in Moscow Friday was European Parliament Secretary Terry Davis. He explained obscurely at a news conference that he was there to “represent Europe” for the Hamas visit. debkafile‘s sources ask: Is he representing every single EU member – or perhaps only its foreign affairs executive Javier Solana, who wants to get in on the Russian action?

Davis also announced he was not ruling out Hamas being invited to European Council headquarters in Strasbourg.


French President Jacques Chirac heads a large delegation to Riyadh


5 March: He was received on arrival Saturday, by King Abdullah. With him are foreign, defense, economy and external trade ministers and a dozen businessmen.

Chirac hopes to sell the oil-rich kingdom French Rafale fighters and a border monitoring system.

debkafile adds: The Saudi-Iraqi border is wide open to terrorist infiltration and smuggling. The Saudis are planning a security system for their desert border after giving up on counter-action on the Iraqi side.

Last week an al Qaeda terrorist who took part in the foiled attack on a Saudi oil refinery fled across the border in to Iraq. He was captured later by Iraqi forces.


A Chill Has Crept over US-Pakistani Relations


5 March: debkafile‘s Pakistan correspondent reports the US-Pakistani relationship has entered choppy waters. Presidents George W. Bush and Pervez Musharraf were at odds on the two main themes of their talks: the spillover of Islamic terrorism across Pakistani borders and nuclear issues. On the global war on terror, the Bush administration is reviewing Musharraf’s centrality, while nuclear proliferation is more of a sore point than ever.

Musharraf insists he is sincerely doing everything possible to uproot al Qaeda from the troubled Pakistan-Afghan tribal belt and halting cross-border infiltration into Indian-administered Kashmir.

Neither Kabul nor New Delhi believes him.

Therefore, the Bush visit to Islamabad was seen as a defining moment in the US-Pakistani anti-terror partnership and, by the same token, for General Musharraf’s own political future.

Some informed diplomatic sources in Islamabad fear that the Bush administration is coming round to the conviction that a weaker Pakistani army is as necessary now as a powerful one was when the US needed its support to invade Afghanistan after September 11, 2001.

The army is Musharraf’s mainstay and so he finds himself in a cleft stick.

His generals refuse to withdraw their backing from the Islamic insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir. He had hoped the army would become more amenable if Bush had offered Pakistan a nuclear contract on the same lines as the one he signed with New Delhi for Indian access to American nuclear technology without signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But the Bush administration wants access to the nuclear black marketer, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, particularly in the context of the current nuclear standoff with Iran. They need to find out what role he played in the Iranian program.

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