Israel Begins Sealing off Refugee Camps – Like Jordan, Lebanon and Syria

Friday night, March 1, on the third day of their first large-scale counter-terror operations in the refugee camps of Nablus and Jenin, Israeli armed forces, led by troops of the Golani infantry brigade, pulled back from the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin to its outskirts.
A few hours later, a Palestinian bomber struck the heart of the ultra-orthodox Jerusalem district of Beit Israel, near Mea Shearim. The narrow streets were crowded with families coming out of synagogue at Sabbath’s end. Most of the nine killed and the 51 injured were children.
The attack came on the heels of intelligence information reaching the prime minister’s office on Friday March 1, quoting Yasser Arafat as pledging to his immediate circle that the Israeli military offensive in the camps would not deter him from turning Israeli cities into a “second Lebanon”.
debkafile ‘s sources, surveying the concatenation of events, find that while the Israeli assault on the camps is the start of a long-running program to beard the most militant terrorist groups in their bases and choke off their access to Israeli centers, Arafat is working fast with immediate effect. Therefore, the military thrusts against Palestinian terrorist hotbeds on the West Bank cannot be expected in the short term to reduce atrocities like the one in Jerusalem.
Unlike Jenin, the paratroop unit that drove into the Nablus camp of Balata on Thursday, February 28, is still there. The paratroop brigade commander, Col. Aviv Cochavi said: “This most impenetrable place showed aggressive resistance, but finally surrendered. The tiger curled up like a cat…”
According to debkafile‘s military sources, the ultimate purpose of the military thrusts into both camps, the most extensive since the onset of the Palestinian confrontation in September 2000, is to cut the Palestinian refugee camps off from outside access – just as they are in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. But first, they are being purged and their terror infrastructure dismantled.
Jenin and Balata were chosen as the first to be cleansed and secluded. According to intelligence evaluations, they housed the largest concentrations of Fatah al Aqsa Brigades militants, as well as the largest West Bank manufacturing units for Qasam rockets and launchers, and workshops for fabricating bomb belts and explosive devices. Next are the Nur Shams camp of Tulkarm and Aweida near Bethlehem, both on the West Bank.
In Jenin and Balata, the local terror militias showed poor fighting ability and low motivation, in striking contrast to their leader’s belligerent rhetoric. They tried to halt the Israeli incursion by hurling at the tanks, APCs and troops, 130 explosive charges and bomb belts, made up ready for their next suicide and terror strikes against Israeli civilian targets.
When this counter-assault failed, the Palestinian al Aqsa militiamen surprised everyone by falling back, appearing to lack any more weapons of resistance, barring occasional snipers. When the Israeli force approached their bases, the Aqsa gunmen fled and made for the town centers of Jenin and Nablus in order to lose themselves among civilians. In Nablus, they plunged into the Casbah, some disguising themselves as women or feigning injuries in order to be rescued by Red Crescent ambulances.
Israeli troops shot at the fleeing fugitives.
The Palestinian casualty toll was accordingly high: 30 dead and 220 injured, some critically, in three days of combat. Israeli forces suffered 2 soldiers killed and 3 injured.
Israel’s military planners took into account that the al Aqsa terrorists surviving the Israeli raid would head for the town centers, a development intended as the third stage in the load of the pressure building up on Arafat in Ramallah, isolate him further and expose his hand in the terrorism bedeviling the region.
In the first stage, executed on December 3, 2001, his aircraft and air strip in the Gaza Strip were demolished and he was confined to Ramallah; the second, a month later, was the capture of the Palestinian arms smuggling vessel on the Red Sea, exposing his links with Middle East and international terrorists The third is the campaign to eradicate the terrorist infestations controlling the refugee camps, which were hitherto immune as too dangerous to tackle without heavy collateral damage to civilians.
This last stage pours salt on the serious divisions in the Palestinian leadership.
The fleeing al Aqsa militiamen, after reaching relative safety in the Nablus and Jenin town centers, are waiting for Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters to send logistic and other aid to enable them to regroup.
Al Aqsa Brigades’ political and military backing consists of Arafat and his closest cronies, most of whom were with him in exile in Tunis and beside him through the Oslo 1993 process that led to Palestinian autonomy in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
They include Sahar Habash, Tayeb Abu Rahim, Ahmad Abdul Rahman, Jihad Masini, Faisal Abu Sharq and Abdullah Awis, as well as the heads of the security services loyal to Arafat – West Bank Intelligence chief Col. Tawfiq Tirawi, heads of the Force 17 “presidential guard” and the military arms of the Hamas and Jihad Islami.
Arafat and his close following are in full control of the terror groups in the refugee camps – but not of the West Bank urban centers. Aside from Jenin, these towns are ruled by relatively moderate Palestinian leaders, such as Arafat’s deputy, Abu Mazen, the West Bank security chief, Jibril Rajoub – whose break with Arafat is final, the Nablus Mayor Ghasan Shaqaa, who runs a strong local private militia, and Palestinian police heads who do not want to be involved in the fighting.
Tirawi is keeping up his end by deploying the Tanzim gunmen of the Bethlehem Abayat clan for a sustained shooting assault on the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, so far injuring four residents and damaging 50 apartments and many vehicles.
However, two prominent Palestinian figures straddle the fence between the two main factions of Arafat’s leadership group. The Fatah-Tanzim chief Marwan Barghouti and the Gaza Strip security service head, Mohamed Dahlan.
While Barghouti is a fierce and combative speaker over Arab media, he is secretly closer to Rajoub than to Arafat and is doing his best to keep his men from being drawn into the fighting in the camps. Dahlan is restricting himself to mounting constant attacks against Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip, waiting for his chance at another spectacular operation, such as the strike against an Israel tank last month.
The al Aqsa militiamen tied down to the West Bank town centers may well become the focus of bloody confrontations between rival Palestinian factions. Meanwhile, the Israeli counter-terror offensive against this militia is only just beginning. It is too soon to gauge its effect on the level of Palestinian terrorism.

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