DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 10, 2004
Tuesday, March 2, as Khalil al-Zaban, 59, sat down behind the wheel of his car in downtown Gaza City, five men in ski masks approached. One opened a conversation and still talking pulled out a gun and shot al-Zaban in the head. The other four pulled out weapons and continued shooting. Then they all made off. In the hospital, twelve bullets were found in the body. The cold-blooded assassination shocked many Palestinians - not so much in the Gaza Strip where it took place but in Yasser Arafat's Ramallah sanctum. For many years, he and al Zaban was very close. The dead man acted as his personal spokesman and trusted director of the Palestinian News Agency, as well as close companion from the days of Palestinian combat in the 1970s Lebanese civil war until their arrival in Gaza in 1994 from years of Tunisian exile.
To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE. In recent years, their friendship cooled, although Arafat awarded al-Zaban a modest budget to put out a small inoffensive weekly on human rights in the Palestinian Authority.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 7, 2004
A major Palestinian attack averted in the nick of time in Tel Aviv, Tuesday, March 2, was designed as a link in the bloody terror chain connecting Karbala, Baghdad, Basra, Quetta and Israel's largest city. Not by chance, they all occurred on the same day, marking the onset of a sweeping new terrorist offensive, launched simultaneously in three countries by a Palestinian-al Qaeda alliance backed by Tehran and Damascus. The Tel Aviv and Basra hits failed. In Iran and Pakistan, more than 340 Shiites were murdered and untold harm wrought to Iraq's prospects for the immediate future. Four days later, Israel was confronted by a newly-aggravated threat: mixed units of suicide killers armed with guns and explosive-packed vehicles set up by the al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades of Arafat's Fatah, Hamas and the Jihad Islami which had struck up a partnership for this offensive. This new type of unit, designed to rack up the casualty toll, was seen for the first time early Saturday, March 5 at Erez, the main Gaza crossing point into Israel. Four days earlier, the same format sowed mass death in Karbala and Baghdad among Shiite worshippers.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 27, 2004
Israel's first dip into Palestinian terrorist bank accounts Wednesday, February 25, raised a storm in international banking circles greater than if Israeli troops had pushed into Bethlehem to avenge two recent Jerusalem bus blasts in which 18 Israelis and a foreign worker died. Washington slapped the Sharon government's wrist, claiming its action in downtown Ramallah could destabilize the Palestinian banking system and should have been coordinated with Palestinian financial authorities, namely the pro-US finance minister Salim Fayad. Israel responded that six months of painstaking intelligence-gathering had gone into pinpointing more that 400 accounts held by Palestinian terrorist groups and funded mostly by Syria, Iran and the Hizballah. Advance notice would have jeopardized the operation.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 22, 2004
Sunday's suicide bombing by Arafat's al Aqsa Brigades of Jerusalem bus No. 14, in which at least 7 Israelis died and 62 were hurt, was not unexpected. It occurred just three weeks after a similar blast aboard a No. 19 bus outside the prime minister's residence in the capital killed 12 Israelis. The wreckage was hauled to Hague and parked outside the international court in time for the Monday, February 23, opening of its hearings on the legality of Israel's unfinished defense barrier. The attack should not have been unexpected because on Wednesday, February 11, Yasser Arafat - as debkafile reported (Enraged Arafat Orders All-out Terror) - issued an explicit order to all Palestinian groups, including his own, to hit Israeli targets with all their strength everywhere in order to sabotage Sharon's unilateral proposals come what may.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 18, 2004
Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) has been engaged in a last ditch attempt to rescue the European aid program to the Palestinians from total cutoff. Palestinian Authority`s coffers, which depend on foreign handouts for 60 percent of their revenues, are depleted. American aid is already lost, since Washington vowed (as debkafile reported exclusively last year) not to give the Palestinians a red cent until they hand over the killers of three CIA security men murdered in a roadside explosion in the Gaza Strip on October 15. Now, the Americans are pushing hard for Europe to follow suit. The European Union is nonetheless continuing to pay the salaries of about 100,000 Palestinian Authority officials and security officers, but it has posed a key proviso: donations will no longer be handed over in cash to the PA - an invitation to the corrupt practices besetting Palestinian government - but transferred directly into the individual payees' banks accounts.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 11, 2004
Yasser Arafat's enraged call for an all-round escalation of Palestinian violence distinguished the Palestinian response to the latest Israeli counter-terror operation in the Gaza Strip from former episodes, according to debkafile's Palestinian experts. He gave an unusually direct order to each and every Palestinian group, faction and organization to launch instant large-scale terrorist attacks against Israeli targets on the scale of the March 2002 massacres which precipitated Israel's comprehensive West Bank Operation Defensive Shield campaign. Prime minister Ahmed Qureia who tried to reach him by telephone from Rome was not put through. Arafat refused to talk to him.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 9, 2004
US ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer sharply criticized the Palestinians trial that opened in the Gaza Strip Saturday, February 7, of four men accused of murdering three CIA agents in a roadside bombing last October. He said the trial before a military court should not be held behind closed doors, Washington should have been told in advance and the charge sheet should be tougher - not merely manslaughter but first degree murder. The four suspects clearly appeared confused and terrified in court. debkafile's sources report that this is not surprising since in actual fact none of the four were involved in the murder of the three American agents. They were not even accused of the crime. The charge sheet describes them as planting roadside bombs on a main highway leading into the Gaza Strip from the Erez crossing point with Israel, the route followed by the American convoy.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 8, 2004
Israel finds itself pulled simultaneously in two opposite directions. Its newly-appointed director of national security, Giora Eiland, warned the Munich security conference Sunday, February 8, that the Palestinians' failure to join Israel in the US-backed road map to peace would leave Jerusalem no alterative other than to initiate unilateral disengagement that would lead to a decision to begin a process of separation between the two peoples. Eiland has been assigned with fleshing out Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's plan for pulling the two peoples apart. But at the same forum, Jordan's king Abdullah called for a US-led international alliance to use "some heavy-handedness" to bring Israel and the Palestinians together at the negotiating table. Both directions, debkafile's political sources find, are equally unrealistic. First, the Bush administration has more urgent business on its mind these days than a peace plan that goes on and on and never arrives.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 15, 2004
Every war has its own life-and-death-stories, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no exception. On Wednesday, January 14, 22-year-old Reem Al-Reyashi, a mother of two, blew herself up at the Erez Crossing from the Gaza Strip to Israel, murdering four Israelis and injuring ten.
She left behind the grieving families of 1st Sgt Tsur Or, 20, from Rishon Lezion, Corp. Andrey Kegles, 19, from Nahariya and Border Guard 1st Sgt. Vladimir Trostinsky, 22, from Rehovot, and Gal Shapira, 29, from Ashkelon.
Meanwhile, many thousands of Gazans are prevented from reaching their much needed jobs in Israel. The crossing has been closed to men and goods until further notice.
The suicide-killer's own death was succeeded hours later by a stream of wild rumors that ran round the Gaza Strip. debkafile's Palestinian and counter-terror sources have obtained a rare glimpse into the life and human background of the first Hamas female suicide bomber.
One of the stories Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and the suicide bomber's husband Ziyad Awad put about is that Reem hobbled up to the Erez terminal on crutches and so fooled the Israeli security officials into taking pity on her as a cripple. In Israeli accounts of the bombing, no crutches were mentioned, only a metal plate which the dead woman claimed was planted in her leg and accounted for the scanner's beeps.
So what happened to the crutches?
Reem may have thrown them away after coming up with what she thought was a better cover story - the metal plate. Or else, the crutches might have contained the explosives she detonated and were pulverized in the blast.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 29, 2003
Last weekend, Ahmed Qureia aka Abu Ala became the second Palestinian prime minister to warn Yasser Arafat he was about to resign. He determined to throw in the sponge after discovering that the Palestinian Authority's coffers were bare. There was nothing left to meet the January 1 payroll for 80,000 public workers and security personnel. In fact the PA has no operating funds at all. Arafat, according to debkafile's Palestinian sources, greeted the threat in stony silence. If Abu Ala quits now, he will have lasted a month and-a-half, compared with the four months his processor survived on the job before being driven out.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 25, 2003
Cairo is still fuming over the "flying shoe ambush" to which Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Maher was treated when he tried to pray Monday, December 12, at al Aqsa mosque on Temple Mount, Jerusalem. Mubarak regards the assault as a spiteful rejoinder from Yasser Arafat for the Egyptian minister's failure to call on him in Ramallah. Since the incident, Palestinian delegations have been rushing to the Egyptian capital to grovel. Cairo entertains a strong suspicion that there was more in the affair that meets the eye. Hints have been dropped that either the two teams had advance knowledge of the attack and orders not to intervene or, worse, Arafat and the Palestinian authorities have abandoned control of al-Aqsa mosque to radical Muslims.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 19, 2003
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon unveiled his much-awaited policy program Thursday, 18 December, under the heading: A Program of Separation. It came with a warning to the Palestinians that he won't wait forever for them to come round. No sooner had the words left his mouth when it was attacked from almost ever direction. Israeli right-wing and pro-settlement leaders declared those steps threatened "the destruction of Zionism." The doves were cynical. Opposition Labor leaders said the plan was just talk. The most displeasure came from the White House. US officials from the president down had warned Israel against any unilateral measures that would make it harder to create a Palestinian state and reiterated Washington's commitment to a negotiated settlement between the two sides on the basis of the US-backed road map. In any case, debkafile's Washington sources revealed, White House contacts reminded Sharon he had promised not to make waves as long as the Bush administration had its hands full in Iraq.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 9, 2003
The next Hamas suicide bomber can kill without strapping a bomb belt to his body. debkafile's counter-terror sources reveal the new type of explosive going into use after the collapse of the Cairo ceasefire talks as being much smaller and lighter while packing a much larger bang. It is compressed enough to be carried in a small bag or hidden in the killer's clothes. A vest can be soaked in its liquefied form. Improved detonators and timers enable the bomber to start the countdown before he reaches target. By the time he is searched at the entrance to a mall or bus station, the bomb is on timer.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 4, 2003
By great good fortune, a Palestinian plot to blow up a large comprehensive school in the small town of Yokneam east of Haifa was foiled. Israeli intelligence was forewarned of the plot by a Palestinian terrorist picked up in an earlier raid. The entire region north of Tel Aviv abutting the West Bank was placed on the highest terror alert Wednesday, December 3, until the pair of would-be suicide bombers was found cowering in a mosque. The attack was meant to be spectacular. It was timed to show up the real value of any truce worked out by 13 Palestinian terrorist groups' representatives who began their conference in Cairo Thursday, December 4, under Egyptian government aegis. Pinning the blame on Jihad Islami was a form of cover-up to which Israeli officials also lent a hand. What was the point?
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 1, 2003
The unauthorized Geneva Accords launch ceremony, celebrated by a flock of unofficial and private individuals at the Swiss lakeside city on Monday, December 1, have netted handsome profits for Yasser Arafat. He has made the United States, Egypt, Israel and his own Palestinians pay through the nose for letting Fatah members attend as private persons while moderating his rejection of the private peace project by not a whit.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 26, 2003
The unpublicized decision by Jordan's king Abdullah and his prime minister Faisal al-Fayez to grant passports to 150,000 Palestinians from Gaza living in the Hashemite Kingdom could reduce to irrelevance the celebrations surrounding a welter of private alternative "peace accords" and their rationale: Prime minister Ariel Sharon's alleged failure to come up with any political solution for the conflict with the Palestinians. Amman's decision is reported exclusively by debkafile's Palestinian and Washington sources. It is said to be the opening move in a novel Sharon initiative backed by the Bush administration to cut through to an acceptable peace formula on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 12, 2003
The Palestinian legislative council set their faces to confirm the new cabinet presented by Ahmed Qureia Wednesday out of a sense of fatalism, although many lawmakers openly called it "Arafat's government", deeply disturbed by the control he retained over Palestinian security forces and presence of former administration members accused of corruption. Powerless to stand up to the ageing Arafat, Abu Ala followed his dictation to be sworn in as second Palestinian prime minister after ceding most of the authority needed to arrest the rapid breakdown of Palestinian governance into terror-generated chaos. The keynote speech Arafat delivered to the council was described as the Qureia government's "mandate."
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 5, 2003
Despite his staunch loyalty to Yasser Arafat, Ahmed Qureia looks like suffering the same fate as his predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas - being ground to dust by his boss, according to debkafile's Palestinian sources. To generate a semblance of order, Arafat placed Qureia at the head of a "caretaker government" at midnight of November 4, when the provisional emergency government's 30-day term expired. However, it is hard to gloss over his world record for changing prime ministers, one every three months. Qureia, better known as Abu Ala, was caught napping. A longtime ally, he never expected to be at the receiving end of the treatment meted out to the "American puppet," Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen. Nevertheless, he found himself left high and dry as nominal head of a transitional cabinet that has no standing in the Palestinian constitution.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 21, 2003
In Damascus, Syrian president Bashar Assad picked up the gauntlets thrown down by the US - congressional legislation for sanctions against his country - and by Israel, whose government spokesman warned that the October 5 air strike near Damascus would not be the last if the Syrians continued to dabble in anti-Israel terrorism. Far from being deterred, the Syrian ruler called a terror summit to close ranks and launch a fresh onslaught. For the first time, the external Damascus-based head of the Palestinian Jihad Islami, Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, and Hamas chief, Khaled Mashal, came together this week for to launch without delay a joint massive campaign of suicide and multi-casualty attacks in Israel. Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah representatives at the unprecedented get-together consecrated the new coalition. It was Assad's way of showing contempt for Washington and stressing his commitment not only to keep up the flow of anti-American fighters through his country into Iraq, but to top it up with parallel incursions of terrorists into Israel and Palestinian-controlled areas.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 20, 2003
Four days after Palestinian bombers murdered three American security men in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian ambushers shot three Israeli members of the crack Duchifat unit on their nightly foot patrol at the Palestinian village of Ain Yabrud near Ofra in the Ramallah district of the West Bank. They were shot in the back. Before escaping the scene in a prepared getaway vehicle, the three Palestinian assailants went up to the injured soldiers, shot them dead and snatched their weapons. Minutes later, an Israeli force alerted by the gunfire arrived on the scene. Their attempts to resuscitate their comrades were unavailing. Equally fruitless was the air and ground manhunt for the terrorists who needed no more than a couple of minutes to drive away in the dark. This Palestinian attack, like the one in the Gaza Strip, was characterized by precise intelligence and split-second timing that could only have been achieved by several weeks of advance surveillance of their victims' routines.