Thursday, August 18, 2011

Unidentified assailants armed with heavy weapons and explosives enter s. Israel fr. the Egyptian Sinai and stage coordinated attacks on a bus, several cars, and an IDF patrol, killing 7 Israelis (1 IDF soldier, 6 civilians) and wounding up to 40, marking the deadliest attack on Israel since 3/2008. The attacks begin at midday with gunfire on a bus nr. Elat carrying mostly soldiers fr. a nearby army base; when an IDF unit arrives on the scene, it is quickly ambushed and hit with explosive devices. Within the hour, at least 3 reports of mortar fire fr. Egypt and attacks on civilian vehicles with antitank weapons are reported in the Elat area. Israeli security forces engage in firefights with the infiltrators over the next several hours, killing at least 7 attackers, noting that 3 of the bodies were booby trapped. At one point, IDF troops pursue the attackers into Egypt and clash with Egyptian border guards, killing an Egyptian military officer and 2 Egyptian border police and injuring 2 others. Israel accuses Hamas of sending terrorists fr. Gaza through the Rafah smuggling tunnels into Egypt and then on to Israel, and criticizes Egypt’s inability to secure its borders. The IDF quickly launches 12 air strikes on s. Gaza in retaliation, primarily targeting the Popular Resistance Committees (PRCs)—an umbrella group comprising mbrs. of all Gaza factions, including Fatah and Hamas. In total, 7 Palestinians (including 2 children) are killed and at least 23 Palestinians (including 7 children, 6 women) are wounded. Among the dead are 5 senior PRC members who were targeted for assassination, including PRC leader Kamal Abu Abed al-Nairab, PRC chief military cmdr. Imad Hamad, and a PRC rocket expert. Later in the evening, gunfire erupts again in Elat, killing 1 Israeli border policeman and critically injuring another. The PRCs fire 4 rockets (including at least 1 manufactured Grad rocket) fr. Gaza into Israel, where at least 3 are intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system; no damage or injuries are reported. By late evening, the Israeli DMin. reports no further fire, but says assailants may still be on the loose. Hamas and the PRCs deny any part in the attacks. Egyptian and American analysts (e.g., NYT, WT 8/19) say that “it is not a remote possibility for [Egypt’s radical militant elements] to cross the border and launch attacks against Israeli targets. It makes a lot of sense” given Egypt’s recent crackdown on al-Qa‘ida-inspired Islamist militants in the n. Sinai (see 8/13). (AHR, AP, HA, IFM, JP, JTA, MNA, REU, WAFA, YA 8/18; NYT, OCHA, WP, WT 8/19; al-Masri al-Yawm 8/20; JAZ 8/21; PCHR 8/25; OCHA 8/26)

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, the IDF patrols in Bayt Liqya nr. Ramallah during the day and in Jenin, Jericho, and 2 villages nr. Ramallah and Salfit. Jewish settlers fr. Beit El nr. Ramallah enter nearby Dawar al-Qare’ village and set fire to 2 cars. (PCHR 8/25)