Alleged bomber of Jerusalem bus came from a well-to-do Palestinian family

The Washington Post reports: The young man accused of being the first suicide bomber in Jerusalem in a decade doesn’t fit the profile of a desperate Hamas operative — and that worries the Israelis.

His uncles are prosperous merchants. He did not grow up in a refugee camp. He went on shopping trips to Jordan.

But the cover photo on his Facebook page includes the image of Yahya Ayyash, a.k.a. “The Engineer,” the chief bombmaker for Hamas, who likely was killed by an exploding mobile phone planted by Israeli agents in 1996.

On Monday afternoon, 19-year-old Abdel Hamid Abu Srour boarded the Egged No. 12 bus and placed a package between his legs. His uncles think that it might have been his first visit to Jerusalem.

His seat was above the vehicle’s gas tanks, according to Israeli news media. His relatives scoffed at the idea that Abu Srour would know how to make a bomb himself.

His high school grades were poor enough that he wanted to retake subjects and redo his exams.

Who gave him the bomb and how it was detonated is the object of a fast-moving investigation.

Hamas claimed that Abu Srour was a member of the Islamist militant movement, although the Gaza-based terrorist group did not assert direct responsibility for the bombing.

Israeli police announced Thursday that they had arrested several members of a Hamas cell in Bethlehem tied to the case. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas linked to Jerusalem bus bombing

The Times of Israel reports: One mystery is solved. The identity of a man severely wounded in Tuesday’s terrorist attack in Jerusalem — suspected of having planted the bomb that exploded on the Number 12 bus — was discovered last night, shortly after the hospital announced he had succumbed to his wounds.

But the Hamas announcement that Abdel al-Hamid Abu Srour, 19, from the al-Ayda refugee camp in the Bethlehem area, was “one of ours” fell short of a full claim of responsibility for the attack, which injured 20 other people.

The Gaza-based terror group released a photo of Abu Srour wearing a Hamas scarf, and another photo that was decorated with emblems of the Second Intifada. But the announcement on the organization’s official website opened with a quote from a “Zionist” Facebook page providing the initial information that it was Abu Srour who had carried out the attack. [Continue reading…]

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From Israeli jail, Marwan Barghouti initiates ‘nonviolent’ bid to ‘free Palestine’

The Times of Israel reports: A group of people close to leading Fatah activist Marwan Barghouti, jailed in Israel for murder, have reached an understanding with the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaderships overseas on a comprehensive plan to jointly campaign against the Israeli occupation until it is brought to an end, Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel.

The plan includes unprecedented steps within the framework of what is dubbed “nonviolent resistance” which, the sources predicted, could prove immensely problematic for Israel. The goal is to force Israel out of all areas beyond the pre-1967 lines via a nonviolent intifada coordinated by a unified Palestinian leadership under Barghouti, who has been jailed by Israel since 2002 after being sentenced to five life sentences for involvement in murder.

The contacts were managed secretly in meetings that took place over recent months by four senior Fatah officials: Barghouti, Qadura Fares, Sarhan Davikat, and Mohammed Horani. All of them were considered senior members of the Palestinian Tanzim organization during the 90s and the latter three are known to be personal friends of Barghouti. Bargouti also intends to run for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority in the next elections, and even has Hamas support for the move, the sources said.

The four met with all of the Hamas leadership, including Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas’s political wing, who is based in Doha, Qatar. Afterwards, they continued with meetings in Istanbul with the participation of Hamas leaders Moussa Abu Marzouk, Salah al-Aruri – considered to be behind many terror attacks against Israeli targets in the West Bank and in Israel – Osama Hamdan, Husam Badran and others. [Continue reading…]

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Is Mohammed Dahlan likely to replace Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian leader?

Adnan Abu Amer writes: The most important world capitals that provided Dahlan with this regional and international network are Cairo and Abu Dhabi, where Dahlan enjoys undeniable influence since he is considered the security adviser of UAE’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. This position has provided Dahlan with influence that many UAE officials may not enjoy within the state.

Dahlan also enjoys considerable influence in Egypt through his direct ties with Sisi, which allows him to influence Egyptian media. In addition, he has been deploying efforts to buy some news websites in Jordan.

Ahmed Youssef, former political adviser to former Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, told Al-Monitor, “Dahlan is welcomed on the regional and international levels. As long as elections are not the only criterion on the Palestinian scene — in light of regional and international pressure to export this leader and sideline others — Dahlan may have better chances at accessing high Palestinian positions than others. This is considering Israel’s [relative] satisfaction with him and his special ties with the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Syrian opposition. The international relations that a Palestinian official has may allow him to climb to rungs of the leadership ladder.” [Continue reading…]

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Hamas said to have tortured and executed one of its commanders

The New York Times reports: The death of Mahmoud Ishtiwi had all the trappings of a telenovela: sex, torture and embezzlement in Gaza’s most venerated and secretive institution, the armed wing of Hamas.

Mr. Ishtiwi, 34, was a commander from a storied family of Hamas loyalists who, during the 2014 war with Israel, was responsible for 1,000 fighters and a network of attack tunnels. Last month, his former comrades executed him with three bullets to the chest.

Adding a layer of scandal to the story, he was accused of moral turpitude, by which Hamas meant homosexuality. And there were whispers that he had carved the word “zulum” — wronged — into his body in a desperate kind of last testament.

His death has become the talk of the town in the conservative quarters of Gaza, the Palestinian coastal territory, endlessly discussed in living rooms, at checkpoints and in cabs. But to astute Gaza observers, this was more substantive than a soap opera.

Mr. Ishtiwi, who is survived by two wives and three children, was not the first member of Hamas’s armed wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, to be killed by his own. What was unprecedented was the way his relatives spoke out publicly about it. [Continue reading…]

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Madaya: A huge concentration camp where Hezbollah starves people to death

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Azzam Tamimi writes: Lebanon’s Hezbollah was, until a few years ago, an inspiration to millions of people in the Middle East and around the world. It was a symbol of heroic resistance putting up a long fight to liberate the occupied territories of south Lebanon and continuing to stand up to Israeli aggression post-liberation.

There was a time when Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, was hailed as “master of the resistance”. His pictures were posted all over Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and were treasured by households across the Arab world. When he gave one of his usually long speeches, people were glued to TV sets and his Almanar satellite TV channel was no less popular than Al Jazeera itself. Many Palestinians truly believed Nasrallah was such a great resistance leader and they wished they had someone like him to lead their own resistance.

Yet today Hezbollah has lost much of the popular support and sympathy it once enjoyed and its leader Nasrallah is ridiculed and condemned by many of those who previously adored him. It is fighting a completely different type of war. Acting upon instructions from its sponsors in Tehran, where a reactionary clerical regime reigns, it is fighting a war in defence of a corrupt despotic regime that reigns in Damascus.

Unlike Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement – which saw itself as a partner of Hezbollah in the struggle against Zionism, refused to bow to pressure from the Iranians. Although Syria was, according to Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, the best haven Hamas ever had outside Palestine, the movement opted to sacrifice all the privileges it had there so as to avoid taking any part in oppressing the Syrian people.

Since leaving Damascus four years ago, Meshaal turned down several invitations from the Iranians to visit Tehran, whose rulers made his visit a precondition for the resumption of any financial aid. Undoubtedly, the Syrian crisis drove deep a wedge between Hamas on the one hand and Hezbollah and Iran on the other. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS in Gaza

Sarah Helm writes: In a house in Rafah, at the southern edge of Gaza, I met Sheikh Omar Hams, fifty-one years old, a slender figure dressed in a simple white robe and seated on a mattress on the floor. Hams is director of the Ibn Baz Islamic Institute, based in Rafah, where it also runs a bakery and charity outlets. His mission, he says, is to spread the word of the Prophet Muhammad and to give bread and other aid to the homeless and the poor.

Hams is a Salafist sheikh. “A Salaf means an original ancestor—one of those who lived close to the Prophet and observed his actions intimately, followed his ways and his words literally,” he explains. The sheikh teaches his students how to return to those ways, and they in turn spread the word. Unlike many Salafis, who abhor any rational argument about the literal meaning of the Koran, Hams is open to at least some debate. And though sometimes willing to support violent jihad, he accepts that violence is often not justified, preferring instead to secure a return to original Islam through the use of prayer, study, and preaching.

Pulling his legs underneath him, the sheikh prepares for questions on how the Prophet might have viewed the methods of Daesh (ISIS) — also Salafists — and on the battle to contain its influence across the world, most particularly here in Gaza.

Since 2007 Hamas has been the de facto government of Gaza, albeit under Israeli rule — a rule implemented nowadays by means of a military and naval blockade by air, land, and sea, which is described by the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, as “a collective penalty against the people of Gaza.” Hamas is itself an Islamist resistance movement, with a resistance “army” called al-Qassam, but Hamas members are seen as infidels by ISIS since they place the nationalist battle for a Palestinian state before the campaign for a caliphate. Hamas’s willingness to negotiate with Israel and to agree to a cease-fire last summer was seen by ISIS as the latest demonstration of its collaboration. ISIS supporters inside Gaza have shown their opposition and tried to break the cease-fire by firing rockets into Israel, thereby angering Hamas and risking heavy Israeli retaliation. [Continue reading…]

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Gaza journalist says he was tortured in Hamas jail

The Associated Press reports: Palestinian journalist Ayman al-Aloul frequently writes about the hardships of life in the Gaza Strip, and is one of the few voices willing to publicly criticize the rule of the Islamic Hamas movement.

But after nine days in jail, al-Aloul says he won’t be writing about politics anymore. He said a painful experience that included beatings and being forced to sit uncomfortably in a tiny chair has made him a “new man” and that he will now focus on less controversial topics like sports, food, literature and fashion.

“I’ve decided not to talk about the general situation anymore,” al-Aloul said in an interview at his home Tuesday, a day after he was released. “The experience I went through was very difficult.”

Al-Aloul’s experience is part of a crackdown by Hamas at a time when the continuing miseries of life in Gaza appear to be driving its population toward more open dissent. Critics have grown bolder on social media sites, and attempts by Hamas to impose new taxes have triggered rare public protests. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas calls for Russian intervention to protect Palestinians from Israeli aggression

Haaretz reports: Hamas called on Russia on Saturday to intervene in what it describes as Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people.

Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal spoke with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov on Saturday evening, according to a statement released by the group.

Referring to the recent spate of attacks perpetrated by Palestinians against Israelis, Meshal told Bogdanov that the “uprising” is a result of the Israeli “policies of oppression” toward the Palestinian people, as well as attempts to “damage the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” Meshal asked that Russia press Israel to stop the “aggression” against Palestinians, primarily in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

According to the Hamas statement, Bogdanov expressed discontent over Israeli conduct, and promised to take action against it, including measures in the international arena. [Continue reading…]

The only way in which Russia currently has an interest in influencing Israel is by blocking its access to Syrian air space.

The New York Times reported last week:

Russia’s Defense Ministry announced on Thursday that it had established a hotline with the Israeli military to avoid clashes in the sky during these operations. On Wednesday, representatives of both sides used the hotline to inform each other about their plans, the ministry said in a statement.

The next day, it became obvious how this hotline is meant to function: the Russians can use it to warn “the Israelis that entering Syrian airspace would be a pretext for opening fire.”

As far as Hamas’s petitions are concerned, they should already understand that Putin has made his philosophy clear: sovereignty means that a government can do whatever it wants within the territory it controls.

Beyond that, let’s not forget that there are a million Israelis who were born in Russia. How many Palestinians are there of Russian descent?

Putin’s intervention in Syria is far from unwelcome in the eyes of many Israelis.

In Haaretz, Moshe Arens asks whether Israel would be better off if Putin succeeds in Syria. “The one advantage of a dictatorship is that there is someone there — someone you can threaten, someone with whom you can negotiate and even make peace.”

It’s not without reason that the canny sign writers in Kafranbel see Russia, Israel, Iran and Hezbollah all siding with Assad against the Syrian people.

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What most people get wrong about political Islam

Shadi Hamid writes: Political scientists, myself included, have tended to see religion, ideology, and identity as “epiphenomenal” — products of a given set of material factors. These factors are the things we can touch, grasp, and measure. For example, when explaining why suicide bombers do what they do, we assume that these young men are depressed about their own accumulated failures, frustrated with a dire economic situation, or humiliated by political repression and foreign occupation. While these are all undoubtedly factors, they are not — and cannot be — the whole story.

But the role, and power, of religion in the modern Middle East is more mundane than that (after all, the overwhelming majority of Muslims do not think about becoming suicide bombers). “Islamism” has become a bad word, because the Islamists we hear about most often are those of ISIS and al-Qaeda. Most Islamists, however, are not jihadists or extremists; they are members of mainstream Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood whose distinguishing feature is their gradualism (historically eschewing revolution), acceptance of parliamentary politics, and willingness to work within existing state structures, even secular ones. Contrary to popular imagination, Islamists do not necessarily harken back to seventh century Arabia.

Why do Islamists become Islamists? There are any number of reasons, and each Brotherhood member has his or her own conversion story or “born-again” moment. As one Brotherhood member would often remind me, many join the movement so that they can “get into heaven.” To dismiss such pronouncements as irrational bouts of fancy is tempting. But, if you look at it another way, what could be more rational than wanting eternal salvation?

Islamists aren’t just acting for this world, but also for the next. Muslim Brotherhood and Brotherhood-inspired organizations aim to strengthen the religious character of individuals through a multi-tiered membership system and an educational process with a structured curriculum. Each brother is part of a “family,” usually consisting of 5 to 10 members, which meets on a weekly basis to read and discuss religious texts. For many members, it is quite simple and straightforward. Being a part of the Brotherhood helps them to obey God and become better Muslims, which, in turn, increases the likelihood of entry into paradise. This belief doesn’t mean that these more spiritually-focused members don’t care about politics; but they may see political action — whether running for a municipal council seat or joining a mass protest — as just another way of serving God. [Continue reading…]

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Egypt destroys thousands of homes to create ‘buffer zone’ with Gaza Strip

Human Rights Watch reports: Between July 2013 and August 2015, Egyptian authorities demolished at least 3,255 residential, commercial, administrative, and community buildings in the Sinai Peninsula along the border with the Gaza Strip, forcibly evicting thousands of people. Extended families who had lived side by side for decades found themselves dispersed, forced to abandon the multi-story houses they had built next to their relatives and passed down through generations. Some families became homeless and lived in tents or sheds on open land or in informal settlements. The Egyptian authorities razed around 685 hectares of cultivated farmland, depriving families of food and livelihood and stripping most of the border of its traditional olive, date and citrus groves. The evictions scattered families among the Sinai’s towns and villages and in some cases as far as Cairo and the Nile Delta. The Egyptian government has indicated that these evictions could continue.

The Egyptian army began demolishing buildings along the border in July 2013 as part of a reinvigorated but long-considered plan to establish a “buffer zone” with the Gaza Strip. These demolitions rapidly accelerated after October 24, 2014, when the Sinai-based armed group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Supporters of Jerusalem, carried out an unprecedented attack on an army checkpoint in North Sinai governorate, reportedly killing 28 soldiers. The following month, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and changed its name to Sinai Province.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who had taken office in June 2014 after orchestrating the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsy the year before, said in a speech on national television the day after the attack that Egypt was fighting a war “for its existence.” He declared a three-month state of emergency in most of North Sinai and convened the National Defense Council and Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which agreed on a plan to establish a “secure zone” along the Gaza border. Five days after the attack, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb issued a decree ordering the “isolation” and “evacuation” of 79 square kilometers stretching along the entire Gaza border and extending between five and seven kilometers into the Sinai. The buffer zone encompassed all of Rafah, a town of some 78,000 people that lies directly on the border, as well as significant agricultural land around the town. [Continue reading…]

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Western superiority and Arab denial

Saudi commentator and academic Khaled al-Dakheel writes: Most Arabs and Muslims will not grant that the West’s civilization is superior. They will admit that it is more technologically or materially advanced, but they deny that the West has achieved any cultural or ethical advance or superiority. There is a half-deliberate, half-incidental disregard for the West’s political and legal achievements, which are sometimes dismissed by referring to the contradictions that seem to undermine their foundation. This is abundantly clear when we hear acknowledgements of the West’s tremendous industrial capabilities alongside descriptions of its cultural decadence and lack of moral discipline. Most currents and schools of thought in the Arab world agree on this point, even if they differ in their explanations, descriptions and details. None of them have ever asked themselves: Could a decadent and morally undisciplined culture have provided the basis for tremendous industrial capabilities? Maybe for this reason time will show that the Arab-Islamic attitude toward the West is mistaken in its outlook, justifications and conclusions. This attitude reveals that the Arab-Islamic perspective (with the possible exceptions of Malaysia and Indonesia) continues to be in thrall to a past that could only ever be resurrected through destructive means. But its error is even more dangerous than that, because it expresses a civilizational impotence and exhaustion more than it expresses any coherent political stance, civilizational vision, or alternative civilizational project. The greatest evidence of the incoherence and injustice of this vision is that you find Baathists, Nasserists, Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Salafis, Muslim Brotherhood, nationalists and leftists all joining together to mock the West, deride its ethical incoherence and despise or disregard its political achievements. This comes at a high cost, because it does not reflect a real consensus as much as it represents an empty opportunism void of political substance and the least amount of moral probity.

This attitude brings together such disparate figures as Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the leader of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, al-Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammed al-Julani, head of the Change and Reform bloc Michel Aoun, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (who is incidentally also the Secretary-General of the Arab Socialist Baath Party – Syria Region). Ranged alongside them are other figures who have since left this world, such as Saddam Hussein, Hafez al-Assad, Abdel Nasser, Abd al-Karim Qasim, Abdul Salam Arif, and many more. They are also joined by Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood sheikhs and sheikhs from various other schools of thought. Lately Houthi leader Abdel Malik al-Houthi has joined the list as well. What is striking – and significant – is that whereas they concur in this coarse opportunism, they disagree on everything else. They are engaged in brutal, bloody clashes on the battlefields of religious wars in Iraq and Syria, fighting on the basis of a sectarianism that they have no shame in avowing. [Continue reading…]

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Blair, Gaza and all that gas

David Hearst writes: Of all the bizarre encounters the Palestinian conflict has generated, Tony Blair’s four meetings in Doha with Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader must surely rank as one of the oddest.

Here was the Quartet’s Middle East envoy breaking the Quartet’s own rules about talking to Hamas until it recognises Israel – rules that Blair and Jack Straw , enforced as prime minister and foreign secretary by pressing the EU to declare Hamas a terrorist organisation. Two of the four meetings were held before Blair resigned as envoy.

Here was Blair, the man linked in mind, body, and soul to the military coup in Egypt (he said the army intervened ” at the will of the people” to bring democracy to Egypt) attempting to mediate between Hamas, Israel and Egypt – the two countries that have kept a stranglehold around Gaza’s neck. The Egyptian leader has been an even more zealous enforcer of the blockade than Netanyahu is.

In a British context, Blair’s dialogue with Hamas took place as his supporters accused the far left candidate in the Labour leadership race Jeremy Corbyn of making Labour unelectable if he became leader. Corbyn had advocated talks with Hamas and Hezbollah – a crime of which the man who won power three times was a repeat offender.

Blair did not just talk to Meshaal. He invited him to London, offering him a specific date in June, on which the current prime minister David Cameron must have agreed. This is the same prime minister who has strived and failed, so far, to publish a report branding the Muslim Brotherhood presence in Britain as extremist. Bizarre.

And yet Blair kept going, even after the existence of the talks was revealed by the Middle East Eye, In the last few days he has still been pushing the deal in Cairo. Why?

His motivation is not obvious. It is surely not out any belated humanitarian concern for 1.8m Gazans. As prime minister and peace envoy, Blair has provided Israel with valuable international cover for one operation in Gaza after another. [Continue reading…]

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UN: Gaza could be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020 if trends continue

The Associated Press reports: A new United Nations report says Gaza could be “uninhabitable” in less than five years if current economic trends continue.

The report released Tuesday by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development points to the eight years of economic blockade of Gaza as well as the three wars between Israel and the Palestinians there over the past six years.

Last year’s war displaced half a million people and left parts of Gaza destroyed.

The war “has effectively eliminated what was left of the middle class, sending almost all of the population into destitution and dependence on international humanitarian aid,” the new report says. [Continue reading…]

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Gaza, Gulag on the Mediterranean

Mohammed Omer writes: At this time last year, as the missiles and bombs rained down in Israel’s lopsided seven-week war against Gaza, I wrote about our struggle to survive during the holy month of Ramadan. This year, another Ramadan has passed, Eid al-Fitr is over and the reality on the ground has changed very little.

The same dreadful conditions are creating desperation among Gaza’s inhabitants, whose lives are terrorized by war and stunted by the long blockade of this spit of land, 25 miles long and six miles wide. The only difference now is the absence of the smell of gunfire and explosives, and of the smoke trails from missiles fired by Israeli F-16s crashing down among civilian homes.

I recently visited some of the most heavily damaged areas of Gaza, starting with eastern Rafah, where massive destruction is still visible and bullet holes spatter the walls of houses. Up the road, in the half-ruined village of Khuzaa, the legacy of physical and emotional trauma has yet to be addressed. [Continue reading…]

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