Mofaz: No Time Limit on Rafah Operation
Israel’s large-scale Israel military operation in Rafah, which was launched Tuesday, May 18, in the terrorist hotbed of Tel Sultan, did not start out on the Philadelphi Route marking the Egyptian-Gazan-Israeli international border. It began attacking the lawless core of the entire Rafah frontier region where illegal trafficking has run out of control.
The tunnels running transversely under the border from Egyptian Sinai into Rafah have sprouted an extensive multimillion crime racket capable of placing quantities of illegal high-powered weapons in the hands of Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip and West Bank and reaching destinations across the Middle East. The tunnels also carry from Sinai, where Egyptian border control is lax, the usual contraband including drugs and prostitutes. Indeed Egypt appears to have lost its footing in northern Sinai.
In the absence of legitimate jobs, Rafah inhabitants, including those who fled their homes ahead of the Israeli advance, make their living from the tunnels and are paid well for the use of their homes as exits or as havens for terrorists. Their paymaster is the local crime gang, the Abu Sema Danas. In recent years, the clan has spread its wings regionally. It is involved in the illicit shipment of weapons to anti-US guerrillas in Iraq and has developed underground Gulf routes for “importing” heavy weapons through Sinai.
Yasser Arafat, by placing his business associate, Jamal Abu Sema Dana, at the head of the “Popular Resistance committees” of the southern Gaza Strip, has gained a lucrative income and a well-armed local terrorist organization while providing the crime mob with a private militia.
Operation Rainbow is not a punitive Israeli raid for the 13 Israeli soldiers killed in the Gaza Strip last week. Neither are the demolitions of Rafah homes acts of revenge. Israel’s chief of staff Lt.-Gen Moshe Yaalon reported that Israeli military action had become urgent because a large supply of new high-caliber weapons had been espied waiting at the Egyptian end for a free tunnel to Rafah. It included 22-km range Katyusha rockets, anti-aircraft Strela and anti-tank Sagger missiles as well as high-powered rocket-propelled launchers, Iran’s gifts to the Palestinians via the Lebanese Hizballah. Some of these weapons may have got through and Israeli troops are hunting caches as well as wanted terrorists.
Now that it has begun, defense minister Shaul Mofaz said the Israeli offensive is not limited in time; it will go on as long as necessary to destroy the tunnel network, break up its management and dismantle the Palestinian terrorist command structure plaguing the border district.
By the end of Day 1, 20 Palestinians had been killed in sporadic fighting in Tel Sultan. Most were armed men; two were teenagers. IDF investigators reported Monday that the youngsters died when explosives they were transporting for Palestinian terrorists blew up.
The Palestinian practice of using children and women as human shields and taking sanctuary in mosques was discerned from the start. Three homes were destroyed when Palestinian gunmen used them as firing positions. A dense network of mines had been laid ahead of the Israeli raid under asphalt roads and at entrances to houses. One of the first Israeli actions was to send bulldozers in as vanguards to plow up the streets. Helicopters shot missiles at Palestinian snipers and saboteurs laying explosives. Earthworks were thrown up to cut the scene of operations off from its surroundings.
A spokesman for Arafat’s Fatah al Aqsa Brigades threatened to demolish homes in Israel and kill Israelis in reprisal for the Rafah operation. Arafat’s spokesman Saeb Arikat accused Israel of war crimes. The UN and European Union denounced Israel`s demolition of homes in Rafah. UNWRA reported hundreds homeless and published graphic images. The UN Security Council was called into emergency session by the Arab bloc.
debkafile reports that Hamas military leader Ibrahim Darwish was killed in a firefight early on Day 1 of the operation. Troops are hunting for prominent Fatah operative Raed Atar as well as any Abu Sema Dana gang bosses who have not fled. Wednesday morning, May 19, Israeli troops blew up the Tel Sultan home of Ibrahim Ahmed, the Jihad Islami murderer of the four Hatuel children and their pregnant mother. They also laid hands on a Hamas source of information on the tunnel network and handed him over to the Shin Beit for questioning.
debkafile‘s Special Correspondent with Rafah Operation reports Wednesday, May 19: By and large Israeli troops are resting up for the toughest part of their mission, the push into the heart of Rafah city to purge the town of the diverse armed Palestinian groups based there. The Palestinians are preparing for the incursion by laying mines and “daisy chains” of explosives and setting RPG ambush traps. They are said to have vast quantities of explosives at their command but are low on ammunition.
In April 2002, Israel’s Defense Shield operation against Jenin’s refugee camp followed a similar pattern of prolonged siege prior to a climactic battle.
Israel’s attorney general Manny Mazuz has summoned experts for a legal consultation Thursday, May 20, on the case for demolishing Palestinian homes to broaden the Philadelphi border route and so enable this lawless frontier sector to be securely controlled.