Enraged Arafat Orders All-out Terror

Yasser Arafat’s enraged call for an all-round escalation of Palestinian violence distinguished the Palestinian response to the latest Israeli counter-terror operation in the Gaza Strip from former episodes, according to debkafile‘s Palestinian experts.
Shijaia, the Hamas stronghold planted in densely populated Gaza City, was the target of a broad Israeli military strike beginning before dawn Wednesday, February 11 and ending around noon. It was mounted in response to an upsurge in recent weeks of intense Hamas mortar and missile attacks from Shijaia against southern Israeli locations just beyond the Gaza Strip border, especially Kibbutz Nahal Oz.
The Israeli force, backed by tanks, quickly drew the fire of masked Palestinian gunmen using assault rifles, mortars, bombs and anti-tank rockets. In the raging battle, 12 Palestinians were killed. Another three were shot dead in a separate ongoing Israeli operation in the southern corner of the Gaza Strip, carried out with the objective of digging out and destroying booby-trapped and arms smuggling tunnels linked to Egypt.
One of the Hamas gunmen killed was Ashraf Hasnin, bodyguard to Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. The Israeli commander, Col. Yoel Strick, said he was 100 percent sure nobody who was not armed was hit.
As soon as the Israeli force quit Shijaia, Hamas leaders broadcast hysterical calls for instant revenge. Eight Hamas Qassam missiles were launched, most hitting Israeli territory but none causing damage.
However, according to debkafile‘s Palestinian sources, Arafat forthwith convened an emergency conference in Ramallah of all his security and terrorist chiefs. He gave an unusually direct order to each and every Palestinian group, faction and organization to launch instant large-scale terrorist attacks against Israeli targets on the scale of the March 2002 massacres which precipitated Israel’s comprehensive West Bank Operation Defensive Shield campaign. Prime minister Ahmed Qureia who tried to reach him by telephone from Rome was not put through. Arafat refused to talk to him.
In the immediate term, Arafat determined to pile fury on Hamas revenge action for the Israeli raid in Gaza City; but his overriding strategic goal is to thwart Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral disengagement initiative. Addressing his security aides, he ranted and raved against Sharon’s proposal, which shocked many Israelis last week, to remove most of the 7,500 Jews living in enclaves in the Gaza Strip. Arafat ordered a ferocious assault to be mounted on the Gaza’s Gush Katif to make sure it did not happen and Sharon’s initiative was foiled.
The Palestinian leader in his battered Ramallah headquarters is reported by debkafile‘s sources to be distraught mainly because he is convinced his foes are moving in for the kill.
He took the petition signed last week by close to 400 members of his own Fatah organization, who handed in their membership cards in protest against bad leadership and corruption, as a revolt against his authority.
Moreover, French, European and International Monetary Fund investigators are suddenly interested in the bank accounts held by his wife Suha Arafat who lives in Paris. Suspicions of money laundering have been raised, but, more seriously, the sum of $900m in Palestinian Authority funds, some contributed by donor nations, was found to have been diverted by PA officials to overseas accounts, including those owned by Mrs. Arafat in Paris. Another formidable sum has vanished into the budget of Arafat’s bureau without an accounting. The investigators are making good use of the documents Israeli forces seized from Palestinian head offices in Ramallah during Operation Defensive Shield.
Feeling more beleaguered than ever, Arafat is striking back.
Wednesday afternoon, thousands accompanied the dead in processions through the streets of Gaza, brandishing Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah flags and shouting “Sharon, prepare body bags to be collected off your streets, markets and restaurants.” This time the call to violence was dictated more frenziedly from Ramallah than from Gaza.

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