August 17, 2014
Purported letter from inside Gaza tells of tunnel toil, Hamas cruelty
July 25, 2014: In this file photo, an Israeli army officer gives journalists a tour of a tunnel allegedly used by Palestinian militants for cross-border attacks, at the Israel-Gaza Border.AP
An emotional letter purportedly smuggled out of Gaza details one man’s harrowing participation in digging the tunnels that Israel blames for triggering the latest round of fighting and paints a bleak picture of life under Hamas control.
The 30-year-old Palestinian to whom the letter is attributed describes accepting a cryptic job offer, then being taken in a windowless truck with five others to a building where they were forced to dig tunnels for long, gruelling shifts in stretches that lasted 10 days.
“We drove for an hour and finally they stopped and took us into a closed building. We didn’t know where we were,” reads the letter, the text of which has been released on the Internet. “They showed us a hole in the ground and told us to go down.
“We didn’t know where we’d been, or what tunnel we dug.”
– Purported letter smuggled out of Gaza City
“We walked for a few hundred meters, and when we got to the end, two Hamas members were waiting for us,” the letter continues. “They gave us working tools and explained to us what to do in order to make the tunnel longer.”
It goes on to describe back-breaking labor performed in unventilated shafts, with Hamas overseers screaming and even assaulting workers not deemed to be working hard enough. In the end, after the workers were taken back home and paid meager wages for their work, “We didn’t know where we’d been, or what tunnel we dug,” the letter said.
Earlier this week, The Times of Israel reported that Hamas killed dozens of tunnel diggers after their work was done to prevent leaks to Israel about the locations of the underground shafts. In addition to tunnelers purposely killed, The Journal of Palestine Studies in 2012 reported that Hamas leaders had admitted that, “at least 160 children have been killed in the tunnels,” reflecting the fact that many children are also used as forced labor to dig the terror tunnels.
The writer, who sources told FoxNews.com lives in Gaza City, had the handwritten, Arabic letter smuggled out by courier to Itzik Azar, a resident of central Israel and friend of the writer’s late father.
In the letter, the writer also claims his father’s metalwork shop was commandeered by the U.S.-designated terrorist group soon after it came to power in Gaza in 2006, and used from that point on to turn out rockets.
“They [Hamas] set the prices and [placed the orders] from the workshop,” he wrote. “From that day, every morning an armed Hamas member used to come to the shop and give us orders to make winged metal pipes. Straight away I understood that they were used to launch rockets. One day a pickup truck came and the Hamas members took my father from the shop. We never saw him again. Later I learned they killed him and threw his body into a pit.”
The death of his father and the seizure of the family shop drove the man to jump at the chance to earn money, he said. When the latest hostilities between Israel Defense Forces and Hamas broke out more than two months ago, he realized his own work had played a role.
“We heard about the tunnels that Hamas dug and I understood that I helped them,” read the letter. “We pray that the world will help to free us from the fearful and cruel Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip. I pray for death to all Hamas members and that we will get freedom and a chance to live a normal life for our children in Gaza. Inshalla.”
Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist. Follow him on Twitter @paul_alster and visit his website: http://www.paulalster.com
July 23, 2014
The U.S. should push for the disarming of Hamas in Gaza-Israel cease-fire
The Washington Post
A Palestinian man stands amid the debris following an Israeli air strike on Gaza City.
(Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)
The distinguishing feature of the latest war between Israel and Hamas is “offensive tunnels,” as the Israeli army calls them. As of early Wednesday, 28 had been uncovered in Gaza, and nearly half extend into Israel, according to Israeli officials. The tunnels are the reason that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu decided last weekend to launch a ground invasion of Gaza, and they explain why that operation has strong support from Israelis in spite of the relatively heavy casualties it has inflicted. Most significantly, the tunnels show why it has been difficult to reach a cease-fire and why any accord must forge a new political and security order in Gaza.
Hamas’s offensive tunnels should not be confused with the burrows it has dug under Gaza’s border with Egypt to smuggle money, consumer goods and military equipment. The newly discovered structures have only one conceivable purpose: to launch attacks inside Israel. Three times in recent days, Hamas fighters emerged from the tunnels in the vicinity of Israeli civilian communities, which they clearly aimed to attack. The concrete-lined structures are stocked with materials, such as handcuffs and tranquilizers, that could be used on hostages. Other tunnels in northern Gaza are designed for the storage and firing of missiles at Israeli cities.
The resources devoted by Hamas to this project are staggering, particularly in view of Gaza’s extreme poverty. By one Israeli account, the typical tunnel cost $1 million to build over the course of several years, using tons of concrete desperately needed for civilian housing. By design, many of the tunnels have entrances in the heavily populated Shijaiyah district, where the Israeli offensive has been concentrated. One was found underneath al-Wafa hospital, where Hamas also located a command post and stored weapons, according to Israeli officials.
The depravity of Hamas’s strategy seems lost on much of the outside world, which — following the terrorists’ script — blames Israel for the civilian casualties it inflicts while attempting to destroy the tunnels. While children die in strikes against the military infrastructure that Hamas’s leaders deliberately placed in and among homes, those leaders remain safe in their own tunnels. There they continue to reject cease-fire proposals, instead outlining a long list of unacceptable demands.
One of those demands is for a full reopening of Gaza’s land and sea borders. While this would allow relief and economic development for the territory’s population, it would also allow Hamas to import more missiles and concrete for new tunnels. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, the Egyptian government and other would-be brokers are right to seek a cease-fire, but they should reject Hamas’s agenda. Instead, any political accord should come after a cease-fire and be negotiated with the Palestinian leadership of Mahmoud Abbas. It should link opening of the borders and other economic concessions to the return to Gaza of the security forces of the Palestinian Authority, the disarmament of Hamas and elections for a new government.
In setting such conditions, international mediators will likely have the quiet support of most of Gaza’s population. Polls show that they are fed up with Hamas’s rule and with its use of women and children as cannon fodder in unwinnable wars with Israel. The next government of Gaza should be one that invests in schools, health clinics and houses, not in tunnels.
How Strong Is Israel’s Northern Border?
Israel Defense Forces
The answer: stronger than ever before. As new a security fence along the Syrian border is going up, the IDF is running a series of trials to keep Israel safe in the face of major unrest right on the other side.
A fence is just one element in protecting Israel’s border, but it has a significant role. Throughout the Jewish holidays last month, the Golan Heights remained in a state of high alert and has remained so afterward as well. Recently, during a surprise training session, soldiers from the Nahal Brigade tested a trial section of the new fence being built along the border with Syria. The fence was built to prevent illegal crossings by hostile infiltrators coming over as a result of the unrest happening on the other side of the border. It is similar to the security fence in Southern Israel along the Egyptian border.
A hole in the fence made while testing out a trial section of the new security fence going up along the northern border with Syria.
The IDF must be prepared for every situation and therefore brought in forces from the Golan Brigade to test out how well the new fence stands up to a variety situations that could be expected.Colonel Eric Hen, commander of the Golan Brigade, says these trials are being done in order to learn where the weak spots are and to understand the benefits the fence can offer.
After successful test firings, IDF forces wanted to identify how easy it was to cross the fence. Patrol forces carried out a surprise ambush. “The patrol vehicles that experienced gunfire from across the fence now know how it works without question. Most of the situations that can occur will be shut down with the initial patrol force. The forces there will not have to wait for additional reinforcement and tanks during the first stage. Our forces showed their ability to cross the fence if necessary,” said Col. Hen.
The Nahal Brigade soldiers simulated a variety of other situations practicing exchange of fire between IDF forces and the enemy. The effect is clear – the fence stood firm against all kinds of shooting and lessened the force of impact. “In the case of a powerful attack, the effect is much less significant as result of the fence. Damage from missiles fired at vehicles traveling along the fence was diminished. When needed, soldiers used vehicles to protect themselves and shoot toward the enemy,” added Col. Hen.
The fence, which is in the midst of construction, is five meters tall and surrounded by barbed wire fences and trenches. In addition to the fence, a reinforced system for collecting combat intelligence was created, allowing fast and comprehensive alerts before damage can be done. The IDF has also increased the number of troops stationed there. In recent years, the area was guarded by reserve forces, but now more and more select units of regular infantry are coming to guard in the Golan Heights because of the growing need.
The New ‘Silk Route;’ Weapons to Gaza and Beyond
Special to IPT News
February 7, 2013
For years, Palestinian rocket fire was isolated to smaller cities in southern Israel. Israeli military officials say weapons smuggled into Gaza via the new “Silk Route,” a pipeline created and protected by governments including Iran, Sudan and others, made that dramatic new range possible.
In a wide-ranging interview for the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a senior source in the Israeli Defense Force, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained how that smuggling works and what it means.
“You can see how it goes between Iran, northern Sudan, via Egypt. It didn’t gradually evolve and develop like the old merchant trail, ‘The Silk Route.’ It’s not something built thousands of years ago. It is something that we believe government officials sat down and decided on. Let me put it this way; in such countries, under such regimes, we don’t believe that anything is being done without the permission and knowledge of the local power.”
The official, whose assessments are based on his day-to-day experience of combating efforts to supply terror groups in Gaza, said the smuggling of more sophisticated weaponry was facilitated in part by upheaval in North Africa.
“When we are talking about the smuggling of illegal arms into the Gaza Strip” the officer began, “we should focus on a few members of this notorious community; we are talking about Iran, north Sudan, Libya as a state, not a government, and of course, the Sinai Peninsula.”
“Libya has become a serious problem since the fall of the Gaddafi regime because it is an open black market” he said. “Unlike Iran and Sudan, there is no government behind what is going on there. There were huge stocks of weapons (some of it western), that are now being offered to the one able to pay the highest price. The Palestinians are taking advantage of that. They will send procurements missions to look for specific items there (in Libya), or sometimes they are taking part in open auctions in Sinai to whoever will pay the most for weapons like SSR’s, Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, MANPADs etc.”
The flow of arms from Iran to specific groups in Gaza has long been a major concern for Israel and others seeking stability in the region. A Western intelligence report highlighted by Reuters back in September, confirmed a long-held Israeli view, saying “Planes are flying from Iran to Syria via Iraq on an almost daily basis, carrying IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) personnel and tens of tons of weapons to arm the Syrian security forces and militias fighting against the rebels.”
“Iran continues to be the major arms supplier to the Palestinian organisations” the officer said. They have been for quite a few years, every year spending many tens of millions of US dollars. Their main transfer route to the Gaza Strip is via north Sudan and Syria, we believe in cooperation with local governments, or at least with the awareness of such governments. The Iranians have used civilian cargo and civilian flights in order to deliver such shipments even without the knowledge of passengers taking seats on such flights.”
Israel believes that some of that weaponry found its way to arm Hizballah in South Lebanon, while some also arrived further down the line in Hamas-controlled Gaza. In September, news of the shipments reportedly prompted then-U.S. Sen. John Kerry to threaten to withdraw aid from Iraq, (where the planes sometimes stop in transit and through whose airspace the flights pass), unless such planes were stopped and searched as a matter of routine.
“These were flights that originated in Tehran and went to Damascus, cargo flights or civilian flights with passengers/tourists flying without knowing that in the belly of the plane there are explosives and other such materials” the Israeli officer said. “Right now there are bans against the Iran Air cargo planes and Mahan Air (which are supposed to be civilian companies).These are restrictions led by the U.S. and Europe.”
No sooner had the recent Israel/Hamas conflict ended than Iran publicly pledged to re-arm its Gazan militias. The process had been made more difficult following the much publicised destruction of the Yarmouk factory in Sudan in late-October, blown up by a series of missiles strikes attributed by the Sudanese government to the Israeli air force. Sudanese Information Minister Ahmad Bilal Osman told Al Jazeera the day after the attack, “Israel has accused Sudan of sending arms to Hamas. These allegations are not correct.”
Intelligence showed that the factory was being used as an assembly point for Iranian Fajr5 missiles and other weaponry shipped to Sudan and subsequently transported through Egypt’s Suez Canal. From there it was smuggled into Gaza through the network of tunnels overseen by the Hamas authorities.
A massive increase in the trafficking of missiles from Sudan to Gaza corresponds with Hosni Mubarak’s fall in Egypt, and the subsequent rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood, (the parent organization of Hamas), and its leader, Mohammed Morsi.
Palestinian terrorists have obtained Fajr5 rockets, anti-tank and surface-to-surface missiles and rockets that can travel 40 kilometers.
What differentiates this route from others is the quality of arms coming through. It is what we call ‘Equilibrium Breaking Arms,’ things that are not that common in the area. Only the participation of governments in the armament process can deliver to Sinai. You don’t get coastal missiles like we caught on the Victoria in March 2011 by purchasing them on Ebay. It is something that a government planned will come from a particular ship on its way to Egypt, then on through Sinai which is the bottleneck of all smuggling activities in the Gaza Strip.”
The interception of the freighter Victoria was one of three high-profile weapons seizures at sea by Israel during the last decade in which more than 450 tons of weapons were seized. Katyusha rockets, thousands of mortars, F-704 anti-ship missiles, two rocket launchers, two British-made radar systems, and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition suitable for AK-47 assault rifles, were just part of the haul. Despite those raids, weapons still get through.
“In 2009 Fajr5 rockets entered the Gaza Strip without us knowing about it. We discovered that later on. There is no 100 percent success in this field of business. We are doing our best to see that we are on any movement of such kind, but yes, of course we are never sure we know everything. We cannot allow coastal missiles to enter the Gaza Strip as then all merchant routes will be under threat. We have gas platforms now on the coast of Israel which could potentially be placed in danger by such missiles.”
The discovery in recent years of vast quantities of natural gas off the coast of Israel could prove a huge boon to the Israeli economy over the next generation, but the terminals are viewed as a prime target for terrorist attacks and their security is clearly of paramount importance to the Israeli Defence Force and security services.
The other critical issue that the IDF officer touched on is the huge danger posed to both Israel and Egypt by the lawlessness in the Sinai Peninsula and the plethora of weaponry arriving there, much of it from the now dysfunctional Libya. Stopping those weapons from reaching Gaza has not proven to be a priority for Egypt, either.
“They do not want any part of the Palestinian problem on their shoulders. If they stop the tunnel industry they will have to open more border crossings and let more supplies in, and that they don’t want to do. But when it comes to Libyan weapons any group can go there [Sinai] to buy, say, anti-tank missiles or MANPAD’s.”
Egyptian forces did intercept a consignment of U.S.-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles smuggled out of Libya in early January, and another again two weeks later. These came at a time when Morsi was desperately trying to convince the U.S. that its offer of billions of dollars of aid and F16 fighters should be honored despite concerns over Morsi’s governance.
Last March, former IDF southern command head Yom Tov Samia went on the record on this issue, stating, “Egypt has been playing the same game since 1967: Whenever they want to be the bad guy, they’re bad guys, when they want to be the good guys, they’re the good guys. This situation has to come to an end. Egypt cannot continue to play the good and the bad guy whenever it’s convenient for them.”
Open air auctions of lethal weapons are taking place in Sinai, and whoever comes up with the most cash, whoever they are, takes the goods and walks.
“These weapons are then not under the control or ‘political wisdom’ of Hamas leaders or PIJ leaders. They might well end up under the control of a small group of Al Qaeda who might decide for themselves that they are now going to shoot at an airplane carrying European tourists travelling into Sharm El Sheik (Sinai resort), or shooting at an airplane landing at Aqaba [Jordan].”
Sinai’s increasing instability is a concern far beyond Israel, the source emphasized, and already serves as an open market for arms, raw materials and technology flowing into the Gaza Strip.
“There are more and more contacts between Al Qaeda and the small groups in Sinai. Egypt finds it [Sinai] hard to police after years of neglect. As far I know there are a quarter of a million Bedouins that were never governed, that were, and still are discriminated against by local authorities…and they have lately become more and more religious. If at the beginning we saw these tribes supporting terror cells for the sake of money, now we see it becoming more an ideological support, and we see more and more cases that these groups of Al Qaeda-influenced extreme Jihadists are becoming more powerful than the tribes.”
“The attack of August 5 that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers has brought home [to Egypt] that the threat is not only against those who don’t follow Allah, but also against less religious Muslims.”
This unique insight from someone so closely associated with trying to stop lethal weapons from reaching the hands of radical Islamists in the Sinai, paints a picture of a worrying broadening of the disparate groups and the massive danger that weapons from Iran and the barely functioning new Libya pose to the security of Israel and to Arab nations who don’t currently espouse wholly radical Islamist views.
“I believe that most people do not understand the threat to targets other than Israel by the open markets of weapons in the Middle East” the intelligence officer concluded. “I don’t think that an American, European, or British customer understands the connection between Libyan black markets and his holiday destination in Aqaba or Sharm El Sheik.”
Then a final parting thought, (delivered with absolute certainty), and a wake-up call to those who believe that the reach of Islamic terror will not encroach on their daily life the way it does in other parts of the world.
“If they think this is just Israel’s problem, or just a Middle East problem, it is not.”
Egypt floods Gaza tunnels, cut Palestinian lifeline
Egyptian forces have flooded smuggling tunnels under the border with the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip in a campaign to shut them down, Egyptian and Palestinian officials said.
The network of tunnels is a vital lifeline for Gaza, bringing in an estimated 30 percent of all goods that reach the enclave and circumventing a blockade imposed by Israel for more than seven years.
Reuters reporters saw one tunnel being used to bring in cement and gravel suddenly fill with water on Sunday, sending workers rushing for safety. Locals said two other tunnels were likewise flooded, with Egyptians deliberately pumping in water.
“The Egyptians have opened the water to drown the tunnels,” said Abu Ghassan, who supervises the work of 30 men at one tunnel some 200 meters (yards) from the border fence.
An Egyptian security official in the Sinai told Reuters the campaign started five days ago.
“We are using water to close the tunnels by raising water from one of the wells,” he said, declining to be named.
Dozens of tunnels had been destroyed since last August following the killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers in a militant attack near the Gaza fence.
Cairo said some of the gunmen had crossed into Egypt via the tunnels – a charge denied by Palestinians – and ordered an immediate crackdown.
The move surprised and angered Gaza’s rulers, the Islamist group Hamas, which had hoped for much better ties with Cairo following the election last year of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, an Islamist who is ideologically close to Hamas.
A Hamas official confirmed Egypt was again targeting the tunnels. He gave no further details and declined to speculate on the timing of the move, which started while Palestinian faction leaders met in Cairo to try to overcome deep divisions.
Hamas said on Monday the Egyptian-brokered talks, aimed at forging a unity government and healing the schism between politicians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, had gone badly but had not collapsed.
While Gaza’s rulers have been reluctant to criticize Morsi in public, ordinary Gazans are slightly more vocal.
“Egyptian measures against tunnels have worsened since the election of Morsi. Our Hamas brothers thought he would open up Gaza. I guess they were wrong,” said a tunnel owner, who identified himself only as Ayed, fearing reprisal.
“Perhaps 150 or 200 tunnels have been shut since the Sinai attack. This is the Morsi era,” he added.
The tunnellers fear the water being pumped underground might collapse the passage ways, with possible disastrous consequences.
“Water can cause cracks in the wall and may cause the collapse of the tunnel. It may kill people,” said Ahmed Al-Shaer, a tunnel worker whose cousin died a year ago when a tunnel caved in on him.
Six Palestinians died in January in tunnel implosions, raising the death toll amongst workers to 233 since 2007, according to Gazan human rights groups, including an estimated 20 who died in various Israeli air attacks on the border lands.
Israel imposed its blockade for what it called security reasons in 2007. The United Nations has appealed for it to be lifted.
At one stage an estimated 2,500-3,000 tunnels snaked their way under the desert fence but the network has shrunk markedly since 2010, when Israel eased some of the limits they imposed on imports into the coastal enclave.
All goods still have to be screened before entering Gaza and Israel says some restrictions must remain on items that could be used to make or to store weapons.
This ensures the tunnels are still active, particularly to bring in building materials. Hamas also prefers using the tunnels to smuggle in fuel, thereby avoiding custom dues that are payable on oil crossing via Israel.