White House Wants Fast Action on Palestinian Prisoner Release and Israeli Withdrawals
Most Israelis did not rise up in arms when IDF troops made way for Palestinian police forces to take over the Gaza Strip or even Bethlehem, site of Rachel’s Tomb. They were generally unmoved by the removal of outposts. However, prime minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to free 1,200 or more Palestinian terrorists, when memories of the latest terrorist attacks less than a month ago are still painfully fresh, arouses bitter resentment.
To spread oil on troubled waters, Israeli officials announced that the Shin Beit will present the lists of prisoners and detainees to be freed to the prime minister in time to have it reviewed at the weekly cabinet session on Sunday, July 6. Those lists, it was further promised, will not include murderers.
However, according to the information reaching debkafile from its military sources, the lists were put together last week by Sharon under pressure from the White House and after consultation with Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas and his internal security minister Mohammed Dahlan. Its makeup was not dictated by the severity of the crimes committed but by the following priorities
1. Their conviction of terrorism prior to the 1993 Oslo Peace Framework Accords – whether or not they are murderers.
2. Service of a 20-year sentence in cases of failing health – whether or not they were convicted of murder.
3. Ailing women and minors – ditto.
4. Around 400 administration detainees who have not yet stood trial.
Of the first batch of around 300, 62 Palestinian prisoners were freed between Wednesday, July 2 and Friday without discussion. Scores more will be out Sunday, July 6. The discharges will be paced, debkafile sources report, according to the needs of the Abbas-Dahlan duo for a popularity boost on the Palestinian street. At any time, they have only to complain of falling into bad favor with their people for Israel to be urged by Washington to loose another group of convicted terrorist-killers, together with liberal grants of “humanitarian concessions”.
When he received the first list last week, Abbas brought it for approval before Gaza Strip Hamas and Jihadi Islami chiefs, as well as Abu Sema Dana. This chief of a notorious Gaza-Sinai smuggling clan has been reinvented with media assistance as the “head” of the Popular Resistance Committees in the Gaza Strip.
The committees have a history as murky as their head.
They were first created by Arafat and his veteran aide Saher Habash as a mechanism to coordinate joint terrorist action by Fatah, the various Palestinian security services, Hizballah cells in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas and the Jihad Islami. Last year, units of the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the Fatah’s suicide arm, were transferred from the West Bank to enhance the absentee Arafat’s control of the Gaza Strip. They were attached to the committees.
Now, in the interests of the ceasefire declared by some Palestinian terrorist groups, the Popular Resistance Committees are being dismissed as marginal breakaways.
In fact, they are a powerful device controlled by Arafat through his close local ally, Abu Sema Dana, master of drug, money, weapons, contract killing and slave traffic in the southern Gaza Strip areas of Khan Younes, Rafah, the Israel-Egyptian border and northern Sinai up to El Arish. His clan also controls the sea smuggling routes from the Lebanese ports of Tyre and Sidon up to the mouth of the Suez Canal and the Egyptian port of Alexandria.
Maritime intelligence sources tell debkafile that illegal shipping using these waters is required to pay a toll to the Sema Danas.
The only boss the clan chief recognizes is Yasser Arafat. From 2001, he has also played ball with Dahlan then head of the Palestinian preventive security service. He still does. Sema Dana’s approval of the list of Palestinian prisoners scheduled for release is necessary to stop the terrorist attacks on IDF positions in Gush Katif and Kfar Darom and for the ceasefire to take effect in the southern Gaza Strip.
Those attacks were not always what they seemed.
Fatah’s new Nasser missiles
Last week, an “anti-tank” missile struck Kfar Darom, slightly hurting four Israelis; another was aimed at Kibbutz Or Ner in southern Israel. debkafile‘s military sources reveal here that the Palestinians were firing a new type of short-range ground missile called “Nasser” (after the late Egyptian president and pan-Arab champion), secretly manufactured in the workshops of the Palestinian preventive security service run by Abu Shbak, Dahlan’s long-time deputy.
Dahlan brought Abu Shbak’s case before President George W. Bush at the Aqaba summit on June 4 with an appeal to stop Israel pursuing him as a terrorist leader and transfer his name to the list of essential guardians of the ceasefire. Dahlan interceded with equal intensity on behalf of another of his deputies from his time as master of terror in the Gaza Strip: Suleiman Abu Mutlaq, who organized the Kfar Darom school bus bombing two years ago, in which three Israelis were killed and several children crippled.
Sharon acceded to Dahlan’s request, even though the chief of Israel’s southern command, Maj. Gen. Doron Almog, issued a strong warning against “trusting a word that Dahlan says.”
Having gained an international seal as an approved “guardian of the ceasefire,” Abu Shbak felt safe enough last week to open up his illegal arms store, bring out the Nasser missiles and pass them to Abu Sema Dana.
The way Palestinian-Israeli negotiations are being conducted at present provides these two with enough leverage to veto the list of prisoners for release and carry on shooting at Israeli targets until their demands are fully satisfied.
The only ones who have not yet seen the list are the members of the Israeli cabinet. They are unlikely to be given a chance to vote on the document, which will be presented if at all post factum. According to Ariel Sharon’s style of government, he only has to advise the cabinet of a decision and may take its consent for granted without recourse to a vote. In any case, unelected functionaries, such as his chef de bureau, Dov Weisglass, do not wait for ministerial authority before executing those decisions.
Sharon’s ministers have so far let him get away with it.
They show no signs of demurring over the next moves. Palestinian terrorists will continue to be freed without opposition and defense minister Shaul Mofaz will sit down with Dahlan Sunday, July 6, to decide which West Bank Palestinian towns will be handed over next. The Palestinian leaders want the IDF out of Ramallah quickly – not only to remove them from proximity to Arafat’s government headquarters, but to lift close Israeli surveillance from Fatah terrorist centers.
As long as terrorists use Ramallah as their hub-base, Israel prefers to hand over Qalqilya and Tulkarm instead. Any withdrawal would run contrary to the pledge Mofaz gave before Israeli forces departed the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem that further pullbacks would be conditional on the Palestinians fully observing their ceasefire commitment.
This is far from the case both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank
Although no public announcement was made, debkafile‘s military sources discovered that on Thursday, July 2, only a few hours after Bethlehem was turned over to Palestinian security personnel, a large-scale suicide attack was barely averted against downtown Jerusalem. The IDF tipped off Palestinian security that Fatah member Fadi Shlat had already donned his bomb-belt ready to go. He was stopped at the exit from Bethlehem.
The drop in terror alerts reported by official sources since the ceasefire went into effect is privately contradicted to debkafile by sources in the IDF, the Shin Beit, the police and Border Guards.
Under the Gaza Strip accord, Palestinian national security units were to have been deployed up to the barrier fencing the Strip off from Israel. However, in view of the latest missile alerts threatening southern Israel – Qassam and Nasser – the IDF is demanding that a buffer strip be carved on the Palestinian side of the fence. The Palestinians object.
Moreover, in view of fresh intelligence reports of Arafat’s Fatah, Tanzim and al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades preparing to move into Beit Jalah and resume their old firing positions against Jerusalem’s Gilo, Israeli forces have been massively deployed to block access from Bethlehem to Beit Jala, as well as shutting the Fire Wadi side road out of Bethlehem, through which Fatah suicide bombers are planning to reach neighboring Jerusalem.