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26 November 2006

Israeli-Palestinian Confrontation November 1-15, 2006

Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
at the Center for Special Studies (C.S.S)

News of the Israeli-Palestinian Confrontation
November 1-15, 2006

An increase in rocket launchings…
…and the results.

A Qassam rocket launched at Sderot
(Syrian TV, November 15)

Disaster Victims’ Identification Association volunteers examine the area where a local woman was killed and a young man critically wounded (Reuters, November 15).


During the past two weeks IDF activity focused on Operation Autumn Clouds in the northern Gaza Strip, during which the IDF hit the Palestinian terrorist organizations' military infrastructure in the town of Beit Hanoun . Approximately 60 terrorist-operatives were killed and dozens detained, and weapons were seized in house-to-house searches.

At the same time, the terrorist organizations, including Hamas, increased rocket fire at populated areas in the western Negev , continuing after the operation had concluded. The city of Sderot continued to be the main target for Qassam rocket fire, which killed a local female resident. Rockets with increased range were also launched at the city of Ashqelon .

A short time after Operation Autumn Clouds ended, the IDF fired artillery to prevent the terrorist organizations from firing rockets into Israeli territory, accidentally killing 19 civilians. The investigation committee appointed by the IDF found a technical fault in the artillery's radar guidance system caused the incident.

In the internal Palestinian arena, there has been an increase in optimistic reports about progress in the negotiations concerning the establishment of a national unity government. They reported that it would be composed of technocrats and headed by Dr. Muhammad Shabir, formerly president of the Islamic University in Gaza . Negotiations concerning the allocation of government portfolios continue. Hamas might be willing to allow the establishment of a national unity government to ease the pressure exerted by the international community, enabling foreign financial aid to be renewed. However, the movement refuses to give up its extremist ideology, which includes around its refusal to recognize the State of Israel .

Important Events

Operation Autumn Clouds in the northern Gaza Strip


Between October 31 and November 7 the IDF focused its activity on Operation Autumn Clouds. The objective was to strike a blow at the terrorist military infrastructure in the region of the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, from Qassam rocket attacks against population centers in the northern Gaza Strip have been launched.

During the operation large IDF armored and infantry forces encircled Beit Hanoun, a densely-populated area (about 28,000 inhabitants) where more than 200 terrorists had taken shelter. IDF soldiers entered Beit Hanoun and remained for a number of days, conducting intensive house-to-house searches for terrorists and weapons. Additional IDF activities were:

  • Thousands of Beit Hanoun residents were interrogated and several dozen terrorists were detained and brought to Israel for additional questioning.

  • Squads of terrorists launching Qassam rockets were attacked at various sites in the Gaza Strip. According to data provided by the IDF Spokesman, nine such squads were attacked and five launchers were destroyed.

  • Terrorist targets in Beit Hanoun and other Gaza Strip locations were attacked from the air. In one attack Ahmad Rajab Awad , head of weapon manufacturing for Hamas in the Gaza Strip and another terrorist were killed.

Remains of the vehicles of the Hamas operative after the attack
(Al-Jazeera TV, November 4)

One IDF soldier was killed, Staff Sergeant Kiril Golshin, and another soldier was critically wounded. According to an Israeli security source, approximately 60 terrorists were killed and about 100 wounded. A number of civilians were also killed during the battles in Beit Hanoun and several dozen were wounded. According to the Palestinians, 250 were wounded, including terrorist-operatives. The Israeli forces found Qassam rocket launchers, RPG launchers, explosive devices and high explosives, observation equipment and ammunition.

Weapons found during searches in Beit Hanoun (Photo courtesy of the IDF spokesman)

During the operation the IDF provided the local residents with humanitarian aid. Dozens of trucks with supplies, food and water-purifying equipment were sent into the Beit Hanoun area during the operation, as were teams for repairing the water and electrical systems, and ambulances and medical teams.

Terrorist response

There were about 200 Palestinian terrorist operatives in Beit Hanoun, most of them members of Hamas. According to IDF sources, the terrorists' resistance was sporadic and ineffective, and their fighting was undirected. The situation on the ground was incompatible with Hamas reports to its media, which said the fighters engaged in determined, organized combat against IDF forces and employed tactics used by Hezbollah. 1

The terrorists' main activities were:

  • Firing small arms, anti-tank missiles and mortars at IDF forces.

  • An attempt made by a Palestinian Islamic Jihad suicide bomber to attack an IDF force.

  • The use of women to extricate dozens of terrorists holed up one of the town's mosques.

  • Increasing the number of rockets fired into Israel during and after the operation to prove that the IDF action did not reduce the extent of rocket launches and to send a message to threaten and try to deter Israel .

A female suicide bomber's attempt to attack an IDF force

On November 6, during Operation Autumn Clouds, a female suicide bomber attempted to attack an IDF force (south of Beit Hanoun. The soldiers saw the terrorist and called to her to stand still, at which point she blew herself up. One IDF soldier was slightly injured. The PIJ claimed responsibility for the attack.

The suicide bomber was Mirfat Amin Massoud , a resident of the Jabaliya refugee camp and a cousin of Nabil Massoud, who was one of the suicide bombers who carried out the suicide bombing attack at the Ashdod Port. 2 In her filmed living will she said she hoped she would go to paradise and meet her mother, and called upon jihad fighters “from Iraq to Chechnya, from Palestine to the Philippines” to take the path of “resistance” (i.e., violence and terrorism) (Al-Jazeera TV, November 6).

The suicide bomber's living will
(Al-Jazeera TV, November 6)

Using the civilian population as human sheilds:
women shield terrorists holed up in a mosque

During Operation Autumn Clouds the IDF was again forced to deal with the Palestinian terrorist organizations' shielding themselves behind the civilian population in whose midst they establish their military infrastructure. Doing so is considered a war crime and a gross violation of the international laws governing combat.

An extreme example was the event occurring on November 3, when several dozen terrorists entered al-Nasr mosque, which is held in particular religious and historical reverence by the residents of Beit Hanoun. 3 IDF forces surrounded the mosque and nearby buildings and called to the terrorists inside to lay down their arms and surrender. The terrorists responded by opening fire.

With the media well represented, a procession of about 200 Muslim women, veiled and wearing traditional dress, arrived at the mosque, possibly called out into the streets by the terrorist organizations and mosque preachers. The terrorists mingled with the women, some of them even donning women's clothing. During the “rescue operation” IDF fire killed two women and about ten were wounded. Generally the IDF avoids firing indiscriminately at women, and that enabled the terrorists to escape .

The Palestinian media, especially those controlled by Hamas, had a field day with the women's “rescue operation.” They were described as having overcome the IDF by marching unprotected to Al-Nasr mosque and fighting “shoulder to shoulder” with the male terrorists. The Hamas media claimed that the women's action had been taken in accordance with an operational plan to extricate the “fighters” from the mosque and even compared them to the female Chechen suicide bombers.

Right: Al-Nasr mosque, which was damaged during the confrontation (Ma’an News Agency, November 10). Left: Muslim women confronting the IDF (Hamas Website, Palestine-information, November 13).

Increased rocket fire at population centers in the western Negev during and after Operation Autumn Clouds

During and after Operation Autumn Clouds the Palestinian terrorist organizations increased the number of Qassam rockets fired into Israel . During the first half of November 119 were launched at the western Negev , with Sderot as the prime target. That represents a significant increase in rocket attacks compared with October, during which only 40 rockets were launched. Thus the trend of the past few months of increased rocket fire continues (See Statistical Data).

After the operation 41 long-range rockets were fired (including at the city of Ashqelon ). Hamas's Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades claimed responsibility for a considerable number of rocket launchings, including the deadly barrage which hit Sderot on the morning of November 15 (the PIJ also claimed responsibility). 4

The PIJ publicly takes responsibility for rocket fire at Sderot
(Al-‘Alam TV, November 15).

In the afternoon of November 7, a few hours after the IDF concluded Operation Autumn Clouds, Hamas operatives in the region of Beit Hanoun sent a volley of four upgraded Qassam rockets against Ashqelon . One of them fell near a school in the southern part of the city and was identified by police sappers as having two motors , which gave it a range of about 12 km (7.5 miles), three km (1.8 miles) more than ordinary Qassam rockets. Such rockets were also used in June and July. 5

On the morning of November 15, a volley of six rockets was fired at Sderot, wounding a 57-year-old woman who died of her injuries in the hospital the same day. A 24 year-old man, one of Security Minister Amir Peretz' bodyguards, was critically wounded, and six people suffered from shock. Another volley was fired during the afternoon, seriously wounding a 17-year-old boy. On the same day a volley of four rocket was fired at Ashqelon .

Accidental IDF artillery fire hits Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun

On November 8, shortly after the conclusion of Operation Autumn Clouds, the IDF received intelligence information about upcoming rocket launchings and fired artillery to hamper the terrorists' operation. It resulted in the accidental deaths of 19 Palestinians who lived in the western outskirts of Beit Hanoun.

The Israeli Chief of Staff appointed a team of experts headed by General Meir Khalifi to investigate the incident; on November 9 the findings were presented. The team determined the accident was caused by a technical fault in the artillery's radar guidance system. In light of the findings the Israeli Chief of Staff ordered artillery fire in the Gaza Strip to be stopped until the technical, professional and operational investigations had been completed (IDF Spokeman's Website).

Revenge threats

During Operation Autumn Clouds, especially after the incident in which civilians were harmed in Beit Hanoun, many senior members of the Palestinian terrorist organizations called for revenge. The main threat was the renewal of the suicide bombing attacks in Israeli cities. Calls were also heard to initiate rocket fire into Israel from the West Bank . Terrorist sources in the Gaza Strip even suggested “striking the Americans without mercy,” accusing them of being responsible for the attack on Beit Hanoun (The Voice of Truth, November 11; Ma'an News Agency , November 12).

For example:

  • Hamas : Hamas leader Nizar Rayan called for suicide bombing attacks and the abduction of IDF soldiers ( Ma'an News Agency , November 8); Hamas spokesman (Fawzi Barhoum announced that the movement had decided to support the renewal of suicide bombing attacks ( Ma'an News Agency , November 10); Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas's political bureau in Damascus, threatened to abduct more IDF soldiers (Radio Sawt al-Aqsa, November 6). Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan called for the continuation of rocket fire (Al-Arabiya TV, November 8). Hamas spokesman Musheir al-Masri stated that the movement had given its operational wing (i.e., terrorist squads) freedom of action to strike deep within Israeli territory (Al-Hayat, November 12).

  • PIJ : Senior PIJ activist Khaled al-Batash stated that a suicide bombing attack was necessary as “the natural response to aggression” ( Ma'an News Agency , November 10); a senior member nicknamed Abu Musa'ab threatened that “everyone will soon hear about the terrible actions [carried out] deep within the Zionist entity” (Radio al-Quds, November 8). A Jerusalem Battalions spokesman announced that “it will not take long before we again hear the echoes of the explosions in Tel Aviv and Haifa ” (Paltoday Website, November 7).

  • Fatah/Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades : A senior Fatah operative in the northern Gaza Strip nicknamed Abu Suhayb stated that “the blows of the suicide bombers will reach Tel Aviv, Haifa and Hadera…” (Radio Shabab, November 9); a spokesman for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades nicknamed Abu Qusay called upon the various organizations to carry out many suicide bombing attacks in “the heart of the occupation” ( Ma'an News Agency , November 8).

  • Palestinian Authority chairman Abu Mazen strongly condemned the incident in Beit Hanoun and called it “a base act of slaughter.” However, at the same time he also condemned the rocket fire, claiming that the rockets were “useless” and gave Israel an excuse to harm Palestinians (Palestinian TV, November 8). Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned Abu Mazen's statements and demanded he apologize to the Palestinian people (Pal-media Website, November 8).

Counterterrorist activities in Judea and Samaria

While the IDF was carrying out Operation Autumn Clouds in the northern Gaza Strip, routine counterterrorist measures continued in Judea and Samaria :

  • On November 3 two senior Fatah operatives in a car were detained in the Balata refugee camp in Nablus . An examination revealed it was a car bomb.

  • On November 8 a group of terrorist-operatives barricaded themselves into a building in the village of Yamoun , near Jenin. IDF forces opened fire and hit six of them. A search of the building revealed weapons. Palestinian sources reported that the village commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades was killed in the action.

Statistical Data

Monthly distribution of attacks

Monthly distribution of rocket hits 6

Monthly distribution of Israeli casualties

The Internal Palestinian Arena

Optimism regarding the establishment of a national unity government
headed by Dr. Muhammad Shabir

During the past few days there have been many optimistic reports from Fatah and Hamas sources regarding progress in the lengthy negotiations for the establishment of a national Palestinian unity government of technocrats. PA chairman Abu Mazen and Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya have reportedly reached an agreement in principle (Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, November 11). The stalled talks got underway again after Ismail Haniya announced that he was prepared to resign as prime minister if it meant an end to the “international siege” of the Palestinian people.

According to the Palestinian media, the leading candidate for the position of prime minister (from among a number of candidates suggested by Hamas and Abu Mazen) is Dr. Muhammad Shabir, formerly president of the Islamic University in Gaza . Shabir is considered independent, not formally a member of Hamas and not connected to terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, he is connected to senior Hamas activists and supports the movement, and the university he headed is a Hamas stronghold. Besides agreement concerning the prime minister, negotiations between Fatah and Hamas continue concerning the allocation of the various government ministries.

Dr. Muhammad Shabir is 60, married, and has two sons and four daughters. He has a BA in pharmacology and medical data analysis from the University of Alexandria , and a doctorate in microbiology from the University of West Virginia . His father is considered a prominent figure in the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian movement from which Gazan Hamas sprang. 7

The designated Palestinian prime minister

Photo from Al-Sharq al-Awsat Website

At the end of long, difficult negotiations, Hamas may allow Ismail Haniya to step down as prime minister to enable a national unity government to be formed, which it will control from behind the scenes. It will do so to lessen the pressure currently exerted by the international community and enable the Palestinian people to receive financial aid again. At the same time, Hamas spokesmen (including Khaled Mashaal) have repeatedly stated that Hamas will not give up is fundamental ideology, which includes the absolute refusal to recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist and the abandonment of terrorism. 8

Thus Hamas is doing its best to have its cake and eat it, that is, to ease international pressure while retaining its ideology (which is completely opposed to the demands of the International Quartet) and controlling the new government.

1 Hamas Websites, in an attempt to imitate Hezbollah, are full of “heroic” stories about well-developed anti-tank capabilities; using snipers to prevent the IDF from advancing; trapping an IDF “special force” in one of the buildings in Beit Hanoun; rocket fire into Israel (using the expression “bombing beyond Sderot,” borrowed from Nasrallah's “beyond Haifa”); and a special Izzedine al-Qassam team's filming of the fighting.

2 The double suicide bombing attack at the Ashdod Port was carried out jointly by Fatah and Hamas. There were two suicide bombers involved, Nabil Ibrahim Muhammad Massoud and Muhammad Zuheir Mahmoud Salem al-Qassem , who hid behind a double wall in a container which passed through the Karni crossing from the Gaza Strip into Israel on its way to the port. They had explosive devices, hand grenades and personal equipment. The two blew themselves up a few minutes apart, one in the port itself and the other near the port's entrance. Ten Israelis were killed and 12 wounded, March 14, 2004 .

3 The cynical use made by Hamas of religious institutions (protected by international law) for military activities is a war crime and even liable to turn the location into a target for military attack.

4 It should be noted that during the months after the establishment of the Hamas government, the movement avoided firing rockets. In recent months the movement's terrorist-operatives have renewed firing rockets and publicizing their activities in the media. Operation Autumn Clouds led to a significant increase in Hamas claims or responsibility for a large number of rocket attacks, both during and after the operation.

5 For further information see our Bulletin entitled “Operation Summer Rains (Update No. 6, July 6, 12 noon),” at http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/summer_rains_e.htm and http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/summer_rains_e.pdf .

6 These data relate only to identified hits and not to the total number of rockets fired. That number is, in our assessment, 20%-30% larger.

7 According to information from Al-Sharq al-Awsat, the Arabic Website http://www.lahaonline.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=9391&sectionid=1 , and other sources.

8 Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum stated that a national unity government would not recognize Israel and would not accept a two-state solution (Reuters, Gaza , November 14). Musa Abu Marzouq said that the issue of recognizing Israel would not be on the agenda of the new national unity government (Al-Quds, November 14).

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