Israeli effort to build trust
Israel on Monday released 57 Palestinians, all of them convicted of terror-related crimes, "in an effort to build trust between the sides ahead of a U.S.-sponsored peace summit in November." (Source: Haaretz). Today (Tuesday) 29 additional Palestinian prisoners were released into the Gaza Strip. According to Yediot Aharonot, the chief of staff and senior officials in the security establishment approved the release of Palestinian prisoners after deciding such a move would not pose a threat to Israel’s security. President Shimon Peres held up the release for some hours over the Palestinian refusal to release an Israeli hostage. (Since the IDF left the Gaza Strip in 2005, the president's authorization has been required for the early release of Gazans from Israeli jails.) But after a short delay the release went ahead.
The pictures above/below show some of the celebrations that greeted the return of the terrorists. Most of the people in these pictures are themselves freshly-freed practitioners of terror - though, in the highly technical Israeli use of the term, they do not personally have blood on their hands at this stage.
Trust-building reciprocated (Gaza edition)
Two more Qassam rockets were fired by Palestinians from Gaza into Israel this morning. (Source: JPost)Trust-building reciprocated (Diplomacy edition)
The Palestinians announced they will participate in next month's US-sponsored "peace" conference only if general agreement is first reached with Israel on all the fundamental issues. Palestinian Authority officials said Monday that those issues include the status of Jerusalem, the borders of the future Palestinian state, what to do about the "refugees", and agreement on water, security and settlements. (Source: Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post). Leaving what issues for the conference? The breakfast menu?Trust-building: A different view
Israel's Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who opposed the release of 90 Palestinian prisoners in the cabinet discussions, and who is a former chief of staff and defence minister, said that "[Israel] is working against terror, paying the price for terror, and nevertheless making a gesture towards the Palestinians." The step "showed weakness." Israel "didn't get anything for releasing 256 prisoners [in July], and we won't get anything this time," he said.Trust-building: Still another view
In a letter written by the IDF's Chief of General Staff's office "the release [of 86 Palestinian security prisoners] is unethical while [kidnapped IDF Cpl.] Gilad Schalit is still being held in the Gaza Strip". (Source: JPost)Trust-building reciprocated (Egypt edition)
Egypt caused immeasurable harm yesterday to Israel's security interests by allowing at least 80 Hamas militants to cross into Gaza a day earlier (Sunday). Some of the Islamic group members have recently undergone extensive military training in Iran and Syria, security sources said. (Source: Haaretz)
An Israeli spokesman said Egypt appeared to want to play down its level of coordination with Hamas, telling the Israelis that those who crossed on Sunday had "broken through the border fence".
Note that despite the widespread claims of Israel "imprisoning" the Gazans, the fact is that since reaching agreement with Egypt on the crossing points to and from Gaza in 2005, Israel lost effective control over who enters the territory from Egypt. Then after the Hamas takeover in the Gaza Strip in June 2007, the work of the European Union observers controlling the crossing points between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula stopped. Israeli influence on the activities at the crossing today is zero. Haaretz says that in the past four months, the Egyptians had prevented the group of Hamas members from entering the Gaza Strip, in part due to Israeli pressure. They were stranded near El-Arish, in northern Sinai. Earlier this week, Cairo altered its position and allowed them to reenter the Gaza Strip. Among those entering the enclave are Hamas legislators Mushir al-Masri, a high-profile spokesman for the movement and Farej al-Rul. Taleb al-Kawasme, former Interior Minister was also in the group, as were were members of Iz al-Din al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, who had undergone training in camps in Iran and Syria.
"Israeli security sources expressed concern that these "experts" were allowed into the Strip because of their ability to bolster terrorist organizations in specialties such as rocket and mortar attacks, sophisticated explosive devices, sniping, and commando raids.
"These are definitely people we would prefer not to see in the Gaza Strip. They did not sneak into the Gaza Strip, but entered through the main gate, with permission and coordination with the Egyptians," an Israeli source said.
While the crossing was the result of an apparent agreement between Hamas and Egypt, the exact circumstances were left vague by those involved, presumably because of the political sensitivities that have been raised.
However, the independent Palestinian news agency Maan reported Monday that Egypt had agreed to the crossing of the Hamas members following a deal that had been struck between Egyptian intelligence and the group. According to the report, an Al-Qaida militant who had fled to the Gaza Strip from Asyut, a city in southern Egypt, had been handed over to Egyptian authorities by Hamas. In return Egypt allowed the entry of dozens of Hamas members into the Strip. According to other sources in the Strip, during the weekend an Egyptian intelligence official, Ahmed Abd al-Halk, met with representatives of the Hamas military wing and of the Popular Resistance Committees. Following the meeting, the Egyptians allowed as many as 87 militants to cross, including members of Islamic Jihad."
The terrorists had been brought to the border area at dawn on buses and crossed Rafah into the Gaza Strip, several kilometers north of the normal crossing point at Rafah. Sources in the defense establishment said Monday that the entry of well-trained extremists into Gaza is just another chapter in Hamas' growing strength with Egypt's active connivance.
Haaretz says: "According to the sources, dozens of experts in paramilitary activities and terrorism have crossed into the Gaza Strip during the past year and have passed on to members of Hamas and other, smaller terrorist organizations the lessons Iran and Hezbollah have learned from the fighting in southern Lebanon during last summer's war... An Israeli spokesman said that Israel has already allowed about 6,000 Gazans who were stranded in Egypt after the Hamas takeover to return to their homes via Israel."
The picture above is from Gaza this afternoon. The man in the blood-red wrap was an imprisoned terrorist until freed this morning.
Trust-building: What we've learned about how it works
A petition presented to Israel's High Court last week, but rejected, sought to prevent the wholesale release of prisoners because of the history of past "trust-building" releases. The petitioner was the Almagor organization, one of several which say they speak in the name of terror victims. Here's their summary of what the past can teach us if we care to take note:
- Between 1993 and 1999, 6,912 terrorists were freed.
- As of August 2003, 854 of them (12.4%) had been re-arrested for murderous activity.
- Another two-thirds of them returned to terrorist activity - in command, training or actual perpetration of attacks.
- Among the attacks perpetrated by freed terrorists were: the lynching of two soldiers in Ramallah (Oct. 2000); the shooting deaths of Binyamin and Talia Kahane (Dec. 2000); the suicide explosions in Netanya, 8 dead (March and May, 2001); the Sea Food Market suicide blast in Tel-Aviv, 3 dead (March 2002); the shooting in the Atzmona yeshiva that left 5 young men dead (March 2002); the Park Hotel bombing during the Passover Seder, 30 dead (March 2002); the bus blasts at Megiddo, Karkur and Jerusalem, 55 dead (June 2002 - June 2003); the double bombing attacks in Be'er Sheva, 16 dead (August 2004).
- We'll name names in our next posting.