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memri
November 7, 2003 No.
153

Palestinian Reactions to the U.S. Convoy Bombing in Gaza

By: B. Chernitsky*
Palestinian reactions to the bombing of the convoy of the U.S. Fulbright academic review committee in Gaza, in which three American security personnel were killed, blamed Israel. The PA security forces arrested nine suspects, six of whom are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) . Following the arrests, PLO Executive Committee member Zakariya Al-Agha stated that the PA would not extradite the detainees, and that they would be tried within PA territory by the Palestinian legal system. [1] A short time following their arrest, however, upon demands by the PFLP, its members were released. [2]

The U.S. State Department announced on its website a reward of $5 million in exchange for information regarding the perpetrators of the bombing. Colonel Rashid Abu Shbak, head of the PA interior security apparatus in Gaza, strongly condemned the American offer, calling it "contemptible, since it is directed toward a people whose mouth does not water in the face of material temptation…The Palestinian people, its security apparatuses, and the nationalist factions do not work for any [external] element." [3]

The Palestinian Factions: We Didn't Do It

Most Palestinian organizations released communiqués denying responsibility for the bombing and asserting that their aim was to fight the Israeli occupation, not Americans.

In its communiqué, Fatah stressed that it was neither the aim of the movement nor a national goal to harm Americans or foreign workers and visitors. [4] The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Fatah's military wing, issued its own communiqué denying any involvement in the bombing and claiming that Israel was responsible for selecting the convoy's route of travel, and that for this reason the Palestinians could not have planted land mines along it. [5]

Similar statements were made by Hamas and Islamic Jihad spokesmen. Hamas stated that it had no interest in expanding the conflict, and that Israel was the main enemy of the Palestinian people. The movement's military wing, the 'Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, emphasized in its communiqué that although America is partner with the Zionist enemy, as shown by the American veto of the U.N. resolution condemning Israel's security fence, the organization's battle is against the Israeli occupation, not the Americans. [6]

In a similar vein, an Islamic Jihad official, Nafez 'Azzam, said that the battle was between the Palestinians and the occupation. In addition, he did not rule out the possibility that Israel was behind the bombing. [7]

PA Leadership, Officials, and Columnists: Israel Did It

PA Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei', also known as Abu 'Alaa , condemned the attack, but did not blame Israel: " We harshly condemn this criminal incident… We will act to follow the matter; we will examine the facts and take the necessary measures…" [8]

PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, who condemned the bombing and ordered an investigative committee to be set up, condemned that Israel played a role in the incident. An official communiqué issued by the leadership stated, "The Palestinian leadership condemns in the harshest terms of condemnation the criminal bombing that occurred in Beit Lahia, [near Gaza] under the military control of the Israeli army, which caused the deaths of four [sic] American observers… For many months, the northern Gaza border region has witnessed the renewed occupation and planting of land mines by the Israeli occupation forces… The Palestinian leadership expresses its sincere condolences to the American president, the American administration, and the families of the innocent victims." [9]

Saeb Ereqat, a minister in Abu Alaa's emergency government, condemned the bombing, calling it a regrettable incident and said, "no Palestinian would harm international monitoring delegations." He said that the convoy was "a group of American inspectors with which we began to work regarding inspection of the execution of the road map." [10]

In its communiqué, the Palestinian Legislative Council noted that the Israeli occupation was the only one to benefit from the bombing. [11]

The PLO Executive Committee condemned the bombing, saying that "the aim of the act of aggression was to sully the reputation of our Palestinian people and whitewash the crimes committed against it in all Palestinian territories." [12]

Following the arrest of nine Palestinians suspects, PLO Executive Committee member Zakariya Al-Agha denied Palestinian responsibility for the bombing. Israel, he said, had the most to gain from the attack because it wanted to prevent closer Palestinian-American relations. Al-Agha stressed that perhaps Palestinians had indeed been involved in the bombing, but if so they were working on behalf of Israeli intelligence. [13]

In an article in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Adel Sadeq, deputy to Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Sha'ath, responded to the claims that Palestinians had carried out the attack. He asserted that:

"The rationale [behind] the policy of the Palestinian struggle does not support an attack on foreign officials..." According to Sadeq, "the possibility that Sharon and his generals detonated the bomb from a distance must not be ruled out, because there are well-known precedents for such actions on their part, particularly against Americans." [14]

The editor of the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Hafez Al-Barghouthi, raised the possibility that perhaps the bomb that hit the American car had been prepared for Israeli targets, but he emphasized the benefit that Israel could derive from this attack. He said that this was perhaps a trap or part of an operationby Israel, with the aim of blaming the Palestinians for aggression towards the Americans as Israel did in the past when it circulated rumors about the presence of Al-Qa'ida cells in the PA. [15]

Bassem Abu Sumayyah, director of the official Palestinian radio station The Voice of Palestine and columnist for Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, accused Israeli PM Ariel Sharon: "This deed was carried out by an unknown [element] with the support of an element that I do not think is native, with capability and experience in making and planting mines and detonating them…" The aim of the bombing, he claimed, was to pour oil on the flames and give a green light to Israel's government to expand the war of annihilation and to draw the noose tighter around the PA, the government, and the Palestinian people.

Fuad Abu Hijleh, also a columnist for Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, also wrote that Israel was the sole benefactor of the attack because it is in its interest to persuade the U.S. that there is a need for a complete occupation of the Gaza Strip and that it is best that the U.S. remain quiet regarding operations Israel carried out in Rafah. With regard to the claim that the Mossad carried out the attack, Abu Hijleh wrote: "We are certain that the American administration knows that we know that this criminal attack on American civilians... was Israeli planning, for which Mossad personnel are responsible." [16]

Hani Al-Masri, a PA Information Ministry official and columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam, also supported the claim that Israel will gain greatly from the attack. According to him, those who think that Israel is involved in the bombing are pointing at European pressure directed at the U.S. to send international monitors to oversee the implementation of the road map. According to this claim, he says, Israel, which opposed this position, sees operations of this type as a simple means of persuading the quartet of the pointlessness in sending international monitors, at least as far as security is concerned. [17]

Cultural Ministry Director Ahmad Dahbour also wrote in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida that "anyone with a mind, two eyes, and a nose would understand, see, and smell behind this operation a plot [to further exacerbate] the dire Palestinian situation." [18]

The following cartoon appeared in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida the day after the attack, and it too hints at Israeli involvement: [19]

* B. Chernitsky is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 20, 2003; Al-Ayyam (PA), October 20, 2003.

[2] Al-Ayyam (PA), November 2, 2003.

[3] Al-Ayyam (PA), November 2, 2003.

[4] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 16, 2003.

[5] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 16, 2003.

[6] http://www.palestine-info.info/arabic/hamas/statements/2003/16_10_03.htm

[7] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 16, 2003. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine issued its own condemnation of the bombing, which, it said, did not serve Palestinian national interests. The PFLP denied any connection to the incident.

[8] Abu 'Alaa added: "We were greatly shocked to hear the news of the deaths of the four [sic] American monitors [sic]." He also expressed hope that the incident would not hamper American efforts to promote the peace process. Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, (PA), October 16, 2003.

[9] Al-Ayyam (PA), October 16, 2003.

[10] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), October 16, 2003.

[11] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 16, 2003.

[12] Al-Ayyam (PA), October 16, 2003.

[13] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 20, 2003.

[14] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 16, 2003. Columnist Talal 'Oqal also discussed the possibility that Israel was behind the bombing: "It can be assumed that the Israeli government, that is acting systematically and consistently in accordance with the military option and expanding the framework of the escalation in the region [so that it could in the future include]… Syria, Lebanon, and Iran, on the pretext of pursuing so-called terrorism and its supporters… is acting to push the American position to a level of aggression that will suit Israel's policy." Al-Ayyam (PA), October 16, 2003.

[15] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 16, 2003.

[16] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 16, 2003.

[17] Al-Ayyam (PA), October 19, 2003.

[18] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (October 17, 2003.

[19] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 16, 2003; http://www.alhayat-j.com/char.php