Zuhir al-Qaisi's car after it was hit by the Israeli Air Force
(Hamas' Palestine-info website, March 9, 2012).Overview
1. On March 9, 2012, a new round of escalation began in southern Israel following the targeted killing of Zuhir al-Qaisi, the secretary general of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC). More than 120 rockets were fired at population centers in southern Israel (as of the early morning hours of March 11) and several more were fired during the day. About half of the rockets fell in Israeli territory. So far, thirty have been intercepted and destroyed by the Iron Dome aerial defense system. Several dozen of the rockets fell inside the Gaza Strip. The IDF carried out several attacks against terrorist targets and squads launching rockets and mortar shells.
2. It is the fourth round of escalation in rocket and mortar shell fire during the past year. In April 2011, 69 rockets fell in Israeli territory, in August 2011, 155 rockets, and in October 2011, 45 rockets (see the graph). The current and previous rounds resulted from attempts made by the Palestinian terrorist organizations (especially the PRC and Palestinian Islamic Jihad [PIJ]) to attack Israel from the Gaza Strip (such as the attack north of Eilat, Israel's southernmost city, which led to the escalation in August 2011) and create a routine pattern of sporadic but continual rocket fire into southern Israel. However, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who visited the Ashdod region on March 10, said that the current round of escalation would not have been initiated if the PRC had not planned to attack Israel's south though the Sinai Peninsula (IDF Spokesman, March 10, 2012).
4. In the northern Gaza Strip on the afternoon of March 9 Israeli aircraft struck the car of Zuhir Musa Ahmed al-Qaisi, secretary general of the PRC, killing him and his aide, Mahmoud Ahmed Mahmoud Hanani. Zuhir al-Qaisi was in the process of planning a combined terrorist attack through the Israeli-Egyptian border (IDF Spokesman, March 9, 2012).
5. Zuhir al-Qaisi, born 1963 and a resident of Gaza City, was appointed secretary general of the PRC seven months ago. According to the IDF Spokesman he was the intermediary in transferring funds from Hezbollah to the Palestinian terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. During the past few days he had been planning a combined terrorist attack against a number of Israeli targets through the Israeli-Egyptian border and the final stages had been reached. Zuhir al-Qaisi had previously been involved in planning terrorist attacks, among them the infiltration of the Nahal Oz fuel terminal in April 20082 and the attack at the Israeli-Egyptian border north of Eilat on August 18, 2011, in which eight Israelis were killed.3 He was also involved in firing rockets and mortar shells into the western Negev (IDF Spokesman, March 9, 2012).
6. Mahmoud Hanani, also killed in the attack, was born in 1968 in Beit Furiq, near Nablus. He was formerly a Fatah operative and planned PRC terrorist activity in Judea and Samaria. He was detained in 1988 at the beginning of the first intifada and released in 1993 following the Oslo Accords. He was involved in terrorist activities. After the outbreak of the second intifada recruited suicide bombers and dispatched them to carry out suicide bombing attacks in Israel. After one of the suicide bombers who was apprehended informed on him, he fled to the Gaza Strip through Jordan and Egypt. He recently became a member of the PRC and was Zuhir al-Qaisi's deputy (PRC website, March 11, 2012).
7. Following Israel's targeted killing of Zuhir al-Qaisi and Mahmoud Hanani the Palestinian terrorist organizations launched massive numbers of rockets and mortar shells at population centers in the south of Israel. By the early morning hours of March 11 more than 120 rockets had been fired. Of them, 53 rocket hits and about 20 mortar shell hits were identified in Israeli territory. Throughout March 11 the rocket and mortar shell fire continued and by the afternoon several dozen rocket hits had been identified (exact statistics not yet available).
8. The rocket fire wounded a number of civilians, two of them critically. Several people were treated for shock and damage was done to property (Ynet, March 11, 2012). The rocket fire also severely disrupted the daily lives of more than one million Israeli civilians: the Home Front Command ordered that schools in communities between 7 and 40 kilometers (4.4 and 24.8 miles) from the Gaza Strip close on March 11. In addition, gatherings of large numbers of people (more than 500) would be forbidden in both open and closed locations (IDF Spokesman, March 10, 2012).
9. The IDF Spokesman reported that the Iron Dome aerial defense system intercepted attacking rockets 90% of the time, 28 of 33 rockets (IDF Spokesman, March 10, 2012).
10. A number of Palestinian terrorist organizations claimed responsibility for the rocket fire, among them the PRC, the PIJ and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (terrorist organization websites). Hamas apparently did not participate in the rocket attacks but did nothing to prevent the other terrorist organizations from attacking. In a press briefing the IDF Spokesman said that the long-range and intermediate-range rocket fire was carried out by the PIJ and the short-range fire by the PRC (IDF Spokesman, March 10, 2012).
11. Abu Mujahed, spokesman for the PRC, said that the Hamas administration had not prevented his organization from firing rockets and that the Palestinian organizations had coordinated their fire (Al-Aqsa TV, March 10, 2012). Abu Ahmed, PIJ spokesman, said that the organization's military wing had "powerful cards" it had not yet used (possibly a reference to rockets with longer ranges). He said that rockets had been fired from the backs of pickup trucks (Jerusalem Brigades website, March 10, 2012).
12. In response to the massive rocket and mortar shell attacks, Israeli aircraft struck a number of terrorist targets, operatives and squads launching or about to launch rockets and mortar shells. About 16 terrorist operatives were killed in the strikes, among them senior PIJ operatives, including Ahmed Hajaj, senior operative of the PIJ's rocket launching unit; Farouq Fahed, an operative from Sujaya; and Hazem Qara'qi, an operative involved in the past in launching rockets. The Palestinian media also reported that dozens were wounded.
13. Some of the Israeli Air Force attacks were the following, as reported by the IDF Spokesman:
1) March 11: A squad about to launch rockets from the northern Gaza Strip into Israeli territory was hit.
2) March 11: Two pits for launching rockets with ranges of 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) in the northern Gaza Strip were hit.
3) March 10: At 22:20 hours a site in the northern Gaza Strip where weapons were stored was hit.
Strike on a location for the manufacture of weapons (IDF Spokesman, March 10, 2012).
4) March 10: A senior PRC terrorist operative was hit in the southern Gaza Strip.
5) March 10: Two centers of terrorist activity were hit, one in the northern Gaza Strip and one in the southern Gaza Strip.
6) March 10: A squad about to launch rockets from the southern Gaza Strip into Israeli territory was hit.
7) The night of March 9: Six terrorist targets were hit, among them two sites for manufacturing weapons and two pits for launching rockets in the northern Gaza Strip. A site for the manufacture of weapons in the central Gaza Strip was hit, as was a center for terrorist activity in the southern Gaza Strip.
The Transport of Goods Continues
14. Despite the escalation in rocket fire, crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip have remained open to avoid harming the civilian population. They are the Kerem Shalom crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, where goods are transferred, and the Erez crossing in the northern Gaza Strip, where Gazans leave and enter.
Palestinian Responses to the Latest Round of Escalation
15. The de-facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip denounced the Israeli activity and appealed to the international community to intervene urgently to stop what it called "Israeli aggression." Individual responses were the following:
1) Abu Obeida, spokesman for the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military-terrorist wing, said that Israel would bear responsibility for its crimes and that the "resistance" [i.e., the terrorist organizations] would respond to Israeli aggression day after day. He added that the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades supported the "resistance" factions and would choose the appropriate way to respond to the Israeli aggression.
2) Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas spokesman, said that Israel's objective in attacking the Gaza Strip was "to shuffle the cards in the Palestinian arena, especially in the Gaza Strip." He said that Israel was responsible for the escalation, adding that the Palestinian people had the right to defend themselves. Hamas has also appealed to the Egyptian People's Assembly to do what it had to for the sake of the suffering Gazan population (Al-Aqsa TV, March 10, 2012).
The Popular Resistance Committees
16. The PRC website posted an announcement of the death of Zuhir al-Qaisi calling for a response. A spokesman for the PRC's military-terrorist wing promised that Israel would suffer a painful response, and said that the killing of one of the leaders of the "resistance" could not be ignored.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad
17. Ahmed al-Mudallal, senior PIJ figure, promised that his organization would not sit by idly in the face of aggression and that the PIJ's jihad would reach deep into Israeli territory. He said the "resistance" [i.e., terrorist organizations] were "fully within their rights" to respond to the "Zionist enemy's" crimes and that the elimination of the "Zionist enemy" would end the conflict (the PIJ's Paltoday website, March 10, 2012).
The Palestinian Authority
18. Mahmoud Abbas, PA chairman, denounced the escalation in the Gaza Strip and said the government of Israel was responsible for the deterioration of the situation in the Gaza Strip. He appealed to the Palestinian people to preserve the "lull" to make it impossible for Israel "to avoid the international efforts to revive the peace process" (Wafa News Agency, March 10, 2012). Mahmoud Abbas made no mention of the routine, continuing terrorist attacks carried out from the Gaza Strip which were the cause of the Israeli attack.
19. Mahmoud Abbas spoke with representatives of Egypt, the European Union and the International Quartet, and asked them to contact Israel in an attempt to halt the escalation. He also spoke with Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas' political bureau, and Ramadan Shalah, secretary general of the PIJ (Wafa News Agency, March 10, 2012).
Appendix - about The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC)
1. The PRC, whose plan to carry out a terrorist attack was the basis for the current round of escalation, is a relatively small organization but with well-developed operational capabilities. It was founded in the Gaza Strip in 2000 by a group of operatives who left Fatah when the Palestinian terrorist campaign (called the Al-Aqsa intifada) broke out. Their objective was to launch terrorist attacks against Israel from the Gaza Strip. The organization has a radical Islamist ideology similar to that of Hamas. Its open letters always begin with a verse from the Qur'an and contain Islamic themes, especially the duty to carry out jihad. The organization is aggressive and belligerent with regard to Israel. It considers the "resistance" [i.e., the path of terrorism and violence] as the Palestinians' only strategic option in its campaign against Israel and therefore repeatedly carries out terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip to violate the relative quiet.
2. Several years ago the organization split into three factions, two of which collaborate with Hamas and in fact operate under its aegis. The third faction, the Army of Islam, is affiliated with the global jihad and carries out its own terrorist attacks, sometimes challenging Hamas and its attack policy. Kamal al-Nairab (Abu Awad) and other senior figures killed in an Israeli Air Force strike following the attack north of Eilat on August 18, 2011, belonged to one of the two factions collaborating with Hamas.
3. An examination of the organization's methods reveals the importance it places on carrying out terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israel through the Sinai Peninsula. Before Operation Cast Lead the attacks were carried out by PRC factions and Hamas, and more so after the operation. They exploited the Egyptian administration's difficulties in enforcing law and order in the Sinai Peninsula (difficulties which increased after the fall of Mubarak's regime) and were supported by a large network of collaborators among the Bedouins of the Sinai Peninsula.
4. One of the PRC's attacks from the Sinai Peninsula occurred on August 18, 2011, a combined attack against a number of targets, including several civilian Israeli vehicles. It was carried out north of the Ein Netafim crossing (north of Eilat) and its perpetrators apparently came from the Gaza Strip. Eight Israelis were killed and 30 were wounded.
5. In response to the terrorist attack in Eilat the IDF attacked a house in Rafah which served as a PRC command post and where senior organization operatives were located. Killed were Kamal al-Nairab, the commander of the organization's main faction, and two other senior operatives. Two other operatives of the organization's military-terrorist wing were also killed. Following the Israeli response, terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip attacked southern Israel population centers with close to 150 rocket hits and dozens of mortar shells. The IDF responded by attacking terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip. PRC factions also participated in the rocket attacks and claimed responsibility for rocket fire at Beersheba and other southern Israeli cities.5
1 During the day on March 11 several dozen additional rockets fell, including those which hit Beersheba and caused property damage. One hit a school.
2 On the afternoon of April 9, 2008, a four-man squad of armed PRC operatives broke through the security fence of the northern Gaza Strip. They went to the Nahal Oz fuel terminal (which serves the residents of the Gaza Strip) and shot at Israeli civilians working there, killing two.
3 On the afternoon of August 18, 2011, the PRC carried out a combined terrorist attack against a number of targets, including several civilian vehicles. The attack occurred north of the Ein Netafim crossing (north of Eilat) and in our assessment the perpetrators came from the Gaza Strip. Eight Israelis were killed and 30 wounded.
4 The number of rockets which actually fell in Israeli territory, excluding excluding those intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system and those which fell in the Gaza Strip. Several dozen other rockets which were fired on March 11 are not included.
5 For further information see the August 23, 2011 bulletin "The PRC: Portrait of the Terrorist Organization Responsible for the Series of Combined Terrorist Attacks North of Eilat, Israel's Southernmost City" at http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/ipc_e218.pdf.