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The rebels in Syria include a few dozen operatives from the Salafist-jihadi organizations in the Gaza Strip

ITIC, Israel, On November 26, 2013, the BBC’s Arabic-language channel broadcast a report covering the phenomenon of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip fighting in Syria against the Assad regime. According to the report, dozens of Salafist-jihadi members of radical Islamic movements in the Gaza Strip have gone to Syria. The BBC correspondent in the Gaza Strip estimates that the phenomenon of joining the rebels stems from persecution of Salafist operatives by the Hamas security forces and from the lull policy of Hamas, which prevents Salafist operatives from attacking Israel (BBC in Arabic, November 26, 2013).

We estimate the number of volunteers from the Gaza Strip who have joined forces with the rebels at several dozen (around 20-23). Seven of them were killed, including three in suicide attacks (Al-Hayat, November 28, 2013). Most of them belong to Salafist-jihadi organizations and some are former Hamas operatives. They enter Syria via Turkey (as do most of the foreign volunteers). Some ostensibly depart for Saudi Arabia (for example, under the guise of going on a Hajj) and from there they enter Syria via Turkey. In Syria, they usually join the Al-Nusra Front and other jihadist organizations.

The number of Palestinian volunteers from the Gaza Strip who join the ranks of the rebels is still relatively low, but it has been on the rise over the past year (like the phenomenon of foreign volunteers in general). In Syria, the Salafist-jihadi volunteers from the Gaza Strip are expected to acquire military experience, ideological training and ties with groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad. Upon their return to the Gaza Strip, they are liable to become a hotbed of terrorism and subversion against Israel, Egypt and even the Hamas de-facto government.

In our estimation, besides the volunteers from the Gaza Strip there are about 10-15 Arabs from Israel in Syria, along with several dozen Palestinians from Lebanon and Syria and a small number of Palestinians from Judea and Samaria. These figures indicate that this is still not a widespread phenomenon among Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. Nevertheless, as aforesaid, once these volunteers return to their countries, they will represent a potential source of terrorism and subversion.

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One Year after Operation Pillar of Defense: PM Netanyahu Visits IDF Gaza Division

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visited the IDF Gaza Division, to mark one year since Operation Pillar of Defense. During the visit, he received security briefings from Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, Deputy IDF Chief-of-Staff Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and GOC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Shlomo Turgeman.

At the start of the visit, Prime Minister Netanyahu said:

"We are marking one year since Operation Pillar of Defense. The numbers are sharp. There has been a 98% decline in high-trajectory firing. It seems that most of the firing has been ineffective; there have been 35 instances. There is no doubt that significant deterrence has been achieved.

However, we are not deluding ourselves. We know that Hamas and the other terrorist organizations are continuing to arm themselves in various ways. They are also trying to develop the underground track, i.e. tunnels, and we are called upon to find a response to all of these threats and, at the same time, continue the strong deterrence that we have achieved and which we are maintaining.

In the end, this deterrence is achieved by the enemy's knowing that we will not tolerate attacks on our communities and our soldiers, and that we will respond in great strength. This is the foundation of our deterrence. The means serve this sense and this policy but this is the foundation of deterrence.

At the same time, we have worked to close the Sinai border. There, Israel is, in effect, the first country that has succeeded to a large degree, one might say even to an absolute degree, in closing its borders. In the past three months there have been no entries into the State of Israel. This is a very major success on the part of the Government, the IDF and the other intelligence systems that have been established along this barrier.

These two matters – the war against terrorism, including the continuing deterrence and finding answers to new threats, alongside guarding our borders, are among the principal missions that we are committed to carrying out, and not just in this sector."

At the conclusion of his visit, the Prime Minister said:

"Hamas is manufacturing and storing missiles and rockets that are concentrated in residential buildings and aimed at Israeli citizens. Israel will continue to strictly uphold international law but will not sit on its hands in the face of terrorists who perpetrate two war crimes at the same time: They are prepared to fire at Israeli cities and are hiding behind civilians in the Gaza Strip. It is our full legal and moral right to direct fire – that is as precise as possible – at those who fire indiscriminately at our people. The responsibility for any collateral damage that is liable to be caused to the residents of Gaza lies squarely on Hamas's shoulders. I would like to express my appreciation and that of the nation to the IDF and the security forces in the sector."

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Israel Frees Palestinian terrorists Before Peace Talks

WJC, Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators are due to convene Wednesday in Jerusalem after a three-year stand-off ended with a first round preliminary talks in Washington last month. Follow-up meetings are expected every few weeks in venues including Jericho in the West Bank in pursuit of US Secretary of State John Kerry's goal of clinching a peace accord within nine months. On Tuesday, Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners who served jail sentences for terrorism offenses.

Israel’s announcement to build new houses in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim to be part of their state has caused controversy. However, the release of the 26, the first batch of 104 Palestinians serving long jail terms in Israel, may improve Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's domestic standing despite his having dropped demands to condition peace talks on a halt to settlement building.

Hundreds of their relatives gathered in the presidential compound in Ramallah in the early hours of Wednesday, waving Palestinian flags and greeting their arrival with tears and chants. Abbas greeted each of the eleven prisoners released to the West Bank with kisses on both cheeks. He locked hands with some of the prisoners making victory signs on a high stage and basked in waves of flash photography. "We congratulate ourselves and our families for our brothers who left the darkness of the prisons for the light of the sun of freedom. We say to them and to you that the remainder are on their way, these are just the first," Abbas told the crowd.

In Gaza, when the other fifteen prisoners crossed an Israeli checkpoint into Palestinian territory, their family members fired guns and set off fireworks.
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Gaza: Children trained as Jihadist fighters in summer camp

 

The camp is organized by the Islamic Jihad movement during a summer school vacation in the town of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip

 


WJC, Children between the ages of six and 16 in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have been photographed doing life-like military training exercises, fire guns and jump over burning tires, according to the news agency AFP. The camp is organized by the Islamic Jihad movement during a summer school vacation in the town of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.
One of the pictures shows young boys dragging a Khaki-clad doll away from an Israeli flag, in what appears to be a re-enactment of the kidnapping in 2006 of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. He was finally released after more than five years in captivity, as part of a prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel.
On the photos, boys are also pictured marching and standing to attention as orders were barked at them to instill military discipline. Visitors to the camp, called Generation of Faith, are given AK47s machine guns that are bigger than some of the children holding them. Participants wear black uniforms bearing the camp's slogan in Arabic, with a logo showing two fists, two guns and a map of the Gaza Strip.
AFP reports that the camp organizers expect the participation of up to 10,000 Palestinian children throughout the summer.

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WJC ANALYSIS - The choice between two evils: the PLO and UNESCO and the crisis in Gaza

While Gaza presents Israel with a military and security challenge, the government in Ramallah is challenging Israel's very legitimacy and identity

 


By Pinhas Inbari
WJC, Last week Israel was twice tested by the Palestinian leadership. On the one hand, its territory was bombarded by missiles out of Gaza, while on the other, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was admitted to UNESCO as a permanent member of the organization. These events illustrate the challenges Israel is facing with regard to Hamas and the Fatah, Gaza and Ramallah, and the decisions and choices it must make.
While Gaza presents Israel with a military and security challenge, the government in Ramallah is challenging Israel's very legitimacy and identity. Immediately after the vote in UNESCO, the PLO announced its plans to question Israel's connection to the holy land in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and on the entirety of Israel’s territory. It also announced its plans to pursue legal action against Israel for the "identity-stealing" of the Arab character of Palestine, Judaizing the legacy of Jerusalem and antiquities theft. The PLO will task UNESCO with the mission of reconstructing the genuine Arab character of the land, allegedly distorted by Israel.
It has been suggested that Israel's government actually prefers dealing with Hamas instead of the Fatah, as it does not essentially confront the Hamas government in Gaza, but its rival – the Islamic Jihad. Moreover, Hamas – through Egypt – is cooperating with Israel by calming down the tensions and stopping the missiles attacks on Israel, in contrast to Ramallah, who is directly confronting Israel in UNESCO and other international bodies.
Surprisingly, Israel's neighbor Jordan also prefers Hamas over the government in Ramallah. It was reported that the new prime minister of Jordan, Awn al-Khassawneh, declared that closing down Hamas’ headquarters in Amman in 1999 was a mistake. It was even reported that a visit by Khaled Mash'al in the royal palace would be welcomed by king Abdallah in the near future.
The PLO's success with UNESCO is thus clouded by Hamas communication with Israel via Egypt and the looming possibility of the return to their headquarters in Amman. Jordan is troubled by the PLO joining UNESCO because until now Jordan represented Jerusalem at the organization. The Palestinians are now asking it to step aside and relinquish custody of the al-Aqsa mosque. This matter is not taken lightly in Amman, which may be more amenable to improving relations with Hamas as a way to get back at the PLO.
On his part, PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas still plans to retire. Abbas has tried to arrange a meeting with Hamas' Khaleed Mashal to coordinate early elections that will end his tenure in office, but so far to no avail. For Hamas, elections do not constitute a priority. Nor does the organization trust Fatah to run a fair election in the West Bank, claiming that the Palestinian Legislative Council could go another ten years without an election, as it has under Fatah. In addition, Hamas is demanding that Fayyad's government be ended and the US-trained Dayton forces be dispersed.
However, in contrast to the PLO, Hamas is against the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority because it provides legitimacy and power to an organization that would otherwise be considered as a mere militia.
Hamas is faced with its own challenges in Gaza. While trying to improve its status as a regional player, it is besieged by internal trouble in the form of Iran-supported Islamic Jihad, unhappy about the Schalit deal. It is telling that the commander of the Qassam Brigades, the military arm of Hamas, Ahmad Ja'bari, has come out of hiding and now moves about freely in Gaza, unafraid of being targeted by Israel. The Palestine Resistance Committees and Fatah believe this new development is a direct consequence of the Schalit deal, which has given Hamas further opportunities to steer away from the 'resistance' policy in Gaza.
The choice between running a government or pursuing a policy of resistance is the real test Hamas is facing — not only with regard to Israel, but also in its relations with Jordan and Egypt. Time will tell if Hamas is as able at running a government as it is at running the 'resistance'.

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