Saturday 28 June 2003

Israelis employ all weapons in fight against terror attacks

Targeted killings considered key part of defense policy

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Ram-On, Israel -- Across a picturesque valley in northern Israel, a field of sunflowers sways in the afternoon breeze under a scorching sun. Suddenly, two figures leap across a ditch and head for a hillside. One is carrying a semiautomatic rifle.
The wail of sirens shatters the bucolic calm near the farming village of Ram-On, and two jeeps and an all-terrain vehicle race toward the suspicious men. A dog leaps out of a vehicle, pinning one of them to the ground. His companion is soon captured by three soldiers in camouflage.
It was all part of a recent training exercise for the Israeli border police along the "seam line," the invisible boundary that separates the West Bank and Israel. Despite its peaceful appearance, Ram-On, which lies southeast of the Israeli port city of Haifa and near the West Bank town of Jenin, has become a terrorist commuter route for Palestinian suicide bombers entering Israel.
"This is the reality we are dealing with every day and every night," Lt. Col. Fero Ziyad, deputy commander of the Israeli border police, said of the training exercise. This week alone, Fero said, his soldiers stopped four potential suicide bombers. His unit has also failed, he added.
On Thursday, they captured a 15-year-old Palestinian youth but only after he gunned down an Israeli telephone engineer in a nearby village. Last month, a young woman traveled six miles from Jenin to the Israeli town of Afula loaded with explosives and blew herself up at the entrance to a shopping mall, killing three people.
Aided by sophisticated camouflage and the latest technology, Fero's unit waits undetected in underground bunkers for up to 72 hours, using high- resolution Loris night vision cameras to relay pinpoint information on suspicious movements up to a mile away.
At the same time, Israel is also constructing a "separation fence" around the West Bank of concrete walls, ditches, patrol roads and electronic sensors. The 186-mile barrier, which the Palestinians bitterly oppose and say is evidence of Israel's rejection of the road map peace plan, is expected to be completed within the next 12 months.
But Israeli security chiefs say their most potent deterrent is also the most controversial -- the targeted killings of militant leaders.
Two weeks ago, Israeli helicopter missiles attacked Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi while his jeep traveled through Gaza City. Rantisi survived, but a bodyguard and two bystanders were killed, including a young women. On Wednesday, two more people died when Israeli missiles hit a car in the Gaza Strip that the Israelis said was packed with mortar shells to be fired at Israeli settlements. Palestinians said the victims were innocent bystanders.
Michael Tarazi, a Palestinian Authority legal adviser, says the Israeli attacks prevented a cease-fire pact from being reached earlier this week.
"We were very close to having an agreement. Unfortunately, there are ongoing Israeli measures that make it difficult for us to finalize that agreement," said Tarazi, referring to Wednesday's missile attack.
Israeli human rights groups have also denounced the targeted killings.
"The assassinations perpetrated by Israel in recent months are a violation of the right to life as guaranteed by Israeli law and international law and constitute extra-judicial executions," said Yael Stein of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.
But Israeli leaders are convinced their hard-line policy is halting terrorist attacks and persuading militant leaders to accept a cease-fire, which is now expected to be formally announced on Sunday.
"The Palestinians are beginning to understand that their own interests oblige them to end terror, violence and incitement," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Thursday. "Their eyes were opened by the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces and their commanders who made it absolutely clear how much the long arm of the Israeli army knows how to reach the terrorist leaders in any place at any time."
According to a senior Israeli army officer who asked not to be named, the killings have "massively reduced" the number of terror attacks from its peak in March 2002, when more than 130 Israelis were killed.
"If we hadn't hit those terrorist leaders, we would be in a much worse situation today," he said. "In June alone, we have had two attacks, but at least 17 more have been stopped."
The same source also rejected accusations that the policy exposes innocent Palestinians to unnecessary risk.
"We have invested massive sums in developing the technology and ability to launch pinpoint strikes at known terrorists with the minimum possible loss of innocent lives," he said. "We have spent huge amounts of time and money calling back helicopters armed and ready to strike, just because we discovered a target had his wife or children or an unknown civilian with him."
A top official of Israel's Shin Bet secret service added that the mass arrests and targeted killings had not only decreased the number of terrorist attacks but created a leadership vacuum.
"It takes time for them to learn the skills of bomb-making," he said. "Every time we take an expert terrorist out of the game, for the next two or three weeks we see new guys blowing themselves up. It's become a known by-product of their learning process."

Monday 23 June 2003

Arafat alleged to raise Libyan money

Sources say he uses funds to finance Al Aqsa Brigades

Monday, June 23, 2003

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Ramallah, West Bank -- Sources close to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat say he has raised $2. 5 million from Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy to finance continued terror attacks against Israel, undermining efforts by reformist Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to achieve a cease-fire as the first step on the U.S.-backed road map toward peace.

The sources say the Libyan money has been paid into bank accounts controlled by Arafat in Beirut and Cairo to underwrite the terror activities of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the paramilitary wing of Arafat's Fatah movement.

Members of the Brigades confirmed to this reporter last week that they were receiving funds from Arafat's office despite efforts by the new Palestinian government headed by Abbas to end attacks against Israel.

Israeli and Palestinian officials say privately that the Arafat-Khadafy link is part of a series of secret diplomatic moves by Arafat designed to undermine Abbas, who is engaged in intensive talks with Palestinian extremists on the terms of a cease-fire.

The Al Aqsa Brigades continue to embarrass Abbas, even though both he and they belong to the Fatah movement. Last Tuesday night, Al Aqsa claimed responsibility for killing a 7-year-old Israeli girl and wounding her 2-year- old sister in a shooting attack on their family's car as it drove along one of Israel's major motorways near the border with the West Bank.

Al Aqsa is also suspected of involvement in a shooting attack near Ramallah on Friday that occurred during a Jerusalem press conference held by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Tzvi Goldstein, 47, a settler originally from New York, was killed, and his 73-year-old parents were badly injured.

Late Sunday, four members of the Brigades were killed in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, apparently when a bomb they were planting detonated prematurely. Loudspeaker trucks drove through the area later, saying that the four had died while "fulfilling their national duty," a phrase used in the past to announce accidental deaths.


Arafat remains isolated in the wreckage of his headquarters compound in Ramallah. The secret diplomatic contacts are being conducted on his behalf by Farouk Kaddoumi, the foreign minister for the Palestine Liberation Organization, who is based in Tunis and is not part of the Palestinian Authority's government.

Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian Authority's foreign minister, is strongly opposed to Kaddoumi's activities and has threatened to resign in protest, according to Palestinian officials.

Kaddoumi flew to Damascus this month on another top-secret mission on behalf of Arafat to meet with Khaled Mashal, Hamas' political and military leader, whose headquarters are in the Syrian capital. Kaddoumi carried a message from Arafat denouncing Abbas' peace diplomacy and distancing himself from Abbas' recent conciliatory speech toward Israel at the Aqaba summit.

According to Palestinian officials within Arafat's close circle and reports in the Arabic press, Arafat has spoken to Mashal several times by telephone since the Aqaba summit. Hamas sources say that Arafat is trying to set up a joint strategy between the pair to undermine Abbas.

Kaddoumi has a history of carrying out sensitive, deniable missions for Arafat. He was revealed as the go-between in secret contacts last year between Iraq and Libya aimed at providing a safe haven for Saddam Hussein. Those talks,

which were abandoned after being revealed by British intelligence, were conducted by Kaddoumi with Hussein's chief of staff, Abid Hamid Mahmud al- Tikriti, who was captured by U.S. forces in Iraq last week.

British intelligence officials said the PLO had been paid more than $1 million by Hussein for Kaddoumi's failed efforts.


On his diplomatic mission to the area on Friday, Powell branded Hamas an "enemy of peace," and refused to condemn Israel's policy of assassinating alleged terrorists classed as "ticking bombs" -- those preparing attacks.

Less than 24 hours later, Israeli forces in Hebron gunned down Abdullah Kawasmeh, believed to be the West Bank commander of Hamas' terrorist wing. Israeli security officials said Kawasmeh was the mastermind behind the June 11 Jerusalem suicide bombing in which 17 people were killed.

Speaking to a World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan on Sunday, Powell said the killing of Kawasmeh was "cause for concern that could impede progress of the road map." But he said the blame for such incidents fell squarely on the terrorist groups.

"We can talk about what the Israelis ought to be doing, what the Palestinian Authority ought to be doing," Powell said. "But it begins with putting the blame first and foremost on organizations such as Hamas, . . . Islamic Jihad and others which continue to conduct terrorist attacks requiring response from the Israeli side and keeping the day further away when the Palestinian people can find peace and security."


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, meanwhile, told his Cabinet that Israel can continue construction activities in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, despite a freeze required by the road map unveiled by President Bush.

"Just build, but just don't publicize it," Sharon said, according to a Cabinet official who briefed reporters after the meeting. Israel TV's Channel 1 said he had told the ministers that settlement building "isn't part of the road map, it's my personal commitment."

Under the peace plan, Israel would have to observe the building ban in the coming months, after the Palestinians begin dismantling militias and Israel removes dozens of settlement outposts. Sharon has declared many times that he will not compromise over what he regards as Israel's security, indicating that he will not carry out all the road map's requirements regarding settlements.