Dying for a degree; & Ashkelon under attack

March 02, 2008

* Holocaust denier Abbas says Israel’s actions “Worse than the Holocaust”

Today’s dispatch is split into two for space reasons. This is the first of them. The other dispatch, titled “Code Red in Sderot: Living in the most heavily bombed place in the world,” contains various articles and can be read here.



1. Ashkelon under attack
2. Hamas deliberately launching rockets from civilian areas
3. Dying for a degree
4. What Israel says? (CNN obscures the facts, yet again)
5. Reuters mistake triggers Israel “Holocaust” libel
6. Holocaust denier Abbas says Israel’s actions “Worse than the Holocaust”
7. Jericho becomes first Palestinian city not to use Israeli electricity
8. Hamas fires at Egyptian builders to prevent new wall
9. Israeli-Arab teenage terrorist arrested in Jerusalem
10. British diplomat: Iran’s nuclear program continued past 2003
11. U.S. warns Europe of Iranian missiles
12. India joins undersea “nuclear deterrent club”
13. Seven Islamic extremists charged in attack on Israeli embassy in Mauritania
14. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait call on their citizens to leave Lebanon
15. Der Spiegel: Olmert to declare two missing soldiers dead
16. Patriot missiles deployed in northern Israel
17. Spain “considering leaving UNIFIL”
18. Gunmen damage Christian school in Gaza, shoot guard, burn library

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


In a choice of words markedly different from those used by his strongly anti-Israel predecessors, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called the over 50 Hamas rockets aimed at killing Israeli civilians in southern Israel yesterday “acts of terrorism.” However, Reuters and other international news agencies failed to report Ban’s phraseology.

Dozens of Israeli civilians (including children) were injured by the Hamas rockets in Sderot, Ashkelon and elsewhere in southern Israel, and substantial damage was caused to property. Rockets that hit residential blocks in Ashkelon sliced through three floors of an apartment building. Another rocket hit the grounds of Ashkelon’s main hospital, as casualties from previous attacks were being treated.


The principal reason that Israel has taken much tougher action against Hamas militants in recent days is that among the rockets fired at the Israeli city of Ashkelon were Iranian-upgraded Grad-type Katyusha rockets, with a range of 22 kilometers.

According to Israeli intelligence, at least 15 of these rockets manufactured in the former Soviet bloc for use against armies, were fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza at residential neighborhoods in Ashkelon. These were manufactured to military standards, and equipped with a weapons-grade high explosive fragmentation warhead.

The missiles had been upgraded by Iran to make them more deadly, and then taken into Gaza last month after Hamas deliberately blew up the border fence with Egypt.



The IDF reports that several Palestinian civilians (along with many militants) were killed when Hamas moved a truck laden with about 160 rockets to be fired at Israel into a civilian neighborhood in northern Gaza, thereby putting civilians into the line of fire.

Unlike Hamas, Israel says it is doing all it can not to target civilians and the majority of Palestinians killed during Israeli military operations were armed terrorists and those directly involved in firing missiles into Israeli towns and cities.

That civilians have died is largely the result of Hamas exposing the Palestinian civilian population to risk by operating within and firing missiles from built-up areas, effectively using civilians as human shields.


Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said: “Israel has exercised restraint for many months now. This has been in spite of the constant firing of rockets and mortar shells on our towns and villages, every single hour, every single day. We cannot do nothing to protect our population forever. More than a quarter of a million Israeli citizens are in the range of the deadly and murderous weapons of Hamas.”

The two Israeli soldiers killed by Hamas yesterday have been named as Doron Asulin, aged 20, of Beersheba, and Eran Dan-Gur, also aged 20, of Jerusalem.

Anxiety in Israel has been rising steadily, as television news has shown the trauma being suffered day after day, night after night, by young and old alike as Kassam rockets were deliberately aimed at civilians. Israelis have seen 8-year-old Osher Twito, who loved to play soccer, hospitalized after his leg was blown off by what was dismissed by the BBC as a “crude homemade Palestinian rocket.” On February 25, another 10-year old Israeli boy had his arm sliced off by another one of these “harmless projectiles.”


International media have not bothered to properly report these incidents. For example, AFP reported about an 8-year-old boy losing a leg in the 25th paragraph of a 26-paragragh article. By contrast Israeli retaliatory strikes aimed at militants firing missiles have been broadcast as breaking news hour after hour on international TV networks.

In yesterday’s AP article carried on The New York Times website there were false suggestions that Israel was deliberately shelling civilians. Only those who read through to the article’s 23rd paragraph will learn the following:

“Israel evacuated its troops and settlers from Gaza in late 2005, but militants proceeded to fire rockets from the abandoned territory. Militants raised the stakes significantly by firing Iranian-made rockets into Ashkelon, a coastal city of 120,000 people.

“While Ashkelon had been targeted sporadically before, it never suffered direct hits. The assault increased the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to protect a widening circle of people at risk.”



Last week, a student was murdered by a Kassam rocket fired at the campus of Sapir College, 40 minutes south of Tel Aviv. Hamas has regularly tried to kill students and yet we haven’t heard even a peep of protest from all those academics in Britain and elsewhere who never tire of expressing solidarity with Palestinian academics. This is so even though Palestinian campuses have never been targeted for bomb attack, as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was in 2002, and Sapir College is now.

As a result of the incessant Kassam fire, over 40 percent of pupils have already fled the Sapir campus and stopped attending classes. Some 40 classrooms and one third of the laboratories are not in use, because they are deemed too vulnerable to rockets and too far from the bomb shelters.

(There have been many previous dispatches on this list about international calls to boycott Israeli universities, for example here.)



When TV networks do mention that Israel is under attack, they just can’t bring themselves to report it straight:

For example, today CNN reports:

“It was the fifth consecutive day in which Israeli forces launched air and ground operations against militants in northern Gaza, aimed at stopping what Israel says is a steady barrage of rocket fire into its towns.”



The article below (Reuters mistake triggers Israel “Holocaust” libel) was written by me and published on Friday, February 29, 2008 at 09:13 am. I then sent it to various media professionals I know, including some BBC executives, and the BBC subsequently changed the word “holocaust” to “disaster” in their headline. (They have since changed the headline again.) However, the other news organizations have still not changed their “holocaust” headlines and there have been some pretty nasty readers’ comments on their websites.

My article was also picked up and cited elsewhere. For example, today it is cited in The Los Angeles Times (America), The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) and The National Post (Canada).


[Friday, February 29, 2008 at 09:13 am]

A Reuters mistranslation of remarks by Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai this morning has triggered an international news libel against Israel.

Among the news outlets jumping on the bandwagon are those that have previously been accused of deliberately attempting to stir up anti-Semitism through false and inflammatory coverage of Israel.

They include several British-owned or British-based media. For example, at the present time the following headlines can be found on these websites:

* Reuters: Israel minister warns Palestinians of “shoah”
* The BBC: Israel warns of Gaza ‘holocaust’ (Now changed by the BBC)
* The Guardian: Israeli minister warns of Palestinian ‘holocaust’
* The Times (of London): Israel threatens to unleash ‘holocaust’ in Gaza

In fact Vilnai said this morning in off-the-cuff remarks made on Israel Radio that: “The more the Qassam rocket fire [on Israeli civilians] intensifies and increases its range, the Palestinians are bringing upon themselves a bigger disaster because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.”

Vilnai used the word “shoah” (meaning disaster), which Reuters mistranslated as “Holocaust,” which is “HaShoah” in Hebrew. It is like confusing a “white house” with “The White House.”

Given the virulently anti-Israel (and many would say anti-Semitic) track record of some of the news organizations who have jumped to prominently headline these mistranslated comments on their home pages, one wonders if they are making this mistake in innocence?



“Moderate” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who infamously wrote a book denying the Holocaust in the 1980s, has gone even further than the international press. Yesterday he told the Palestinian WAFA news agency that Israel’s actions are “worse than the Holocaust.”

For background, see “Abu Mazen and the Holocaust” (June 8, 2003).

(Most Palestinians routinely call Abbas by his nom de guerre, Abu Mazen.)

Abbas is not alone in his denial of the Holocaust; just yesterday Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal again accused Israel of “exaggerating the Holocaust.”

The European Union’s “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism” includes: Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust; and drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

Separately, in an interview last week with the Jordan publication Al-Dustur, Abbas said he “took pride” in the fact that he had personally fired the first bullet on Israel (so he claimed) when Fatah was founded in 1965, and that Fatah had initially helped train Hizbullah.



In a move of potentially historic importance, Jordan’s National Electricity Power Company today started supplying the West Bank city of Jericho with its electricity.

This ends the delay in the implementation of the agreement signed in mid-2007 between Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The first phase of the project included the building up of double air grids (30 km in Jordan and eight km in the West Bank), that will link the Sweimeh plant to the under-construction Sea-Surface Electricity Plant in Jericho. Work on the second phase began in parallel with the first phase and is expected to be concluded by August 2008.

The Israeli government, which would like to see the creation of a Palestinian state as soon as that state would stop threatening to kill Israelis, welcomed the move.

For more, see this article in the Jordan Times.



The Egyptian Daily News reports that Hamas fired shots over the heads of Egyptian workers building a new wall on the border between Egypt and Gaza. Egypt has commissioned a new wall to be built of concrete in place of the existing barbwire fence to prevent more breaches like the one that occurred last month.

“Sources in Gaza say that Hamas will fire at anyone attempting to build the wall unless the Rafah border crossing is reopened,” the newspaper said.

Separately, in an interview on Al-Mihwar TV, retired Egyptian General Hussam Sweilem has strongly criticized Hamas for destroying the border fence with Egypt and warned of “extremist religious regimes neighboring with Egypt.”

He said Gaza had become what he termed “Hamastan” and now posed a danger for the whole region.



Israel’s domestic Shin Bet intelligence agency revealed last week that they had arrested a 17-year-old female terrorist who intended to carry out a suicide bombing on a Jewish target in Israel. The girl enjoys Israeli citizenship and free passage to all Israeli and PA-controlled areas.

The girl admitted that she had held several meetings with Islamic Jihad terrorist coordinators, who had trained her. She had also been sent by them to Mecca first to “purify” herself. She was remanded in custody by the Jerusalem Magistrates Court.



Iran continued work on nuclear weapons past 2003, the year U.S. intelligence says such activities stopped, a senior British diplomat said last week, according to an Associated Press report from Vienna.

The comments were made by Simon Smith, the chief British delegate to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Asked whether the information presented to the IAEA’s 35 member nations indicated that Teheran continued such activities past that date, Smith said: “Certainly some of the dates went beyond 2003,” but did not elaborate.

Another senior diplomat at the presentation, who asked for anonymity because the IAEA meeting was closed, said that among the material shown at last week’s IAEA meeting was an Iranian video depicting mockups of a missile re-entry vehicle. He said IAEA Director-General Oli Heinonen suggested the component – which brings missiles back from the stratosphere – was configured in a way that strongly suggests it was meant to carry a nuclear warhead.

This is the first time a British diplomat has made such comments, although I revealed on this list in December, British intelligence did not concur with the NIE assessment made earlier that month.

See the dispatches: British intelligence: Israelis are right, U.S. is wrong; Iran is rushing to acquire nukes (Dec.11, 2007)
And: In flip-flop, U.S. says Iran may be able to make nukes by next year (& more stonings in Iran) (Feb. 11, 2008)



The Los Angeles Times reports that American officials have warned that Iran is within two or three years of producing a missile that could reach most European capitals.

“They’re already flying missiles that exceed what they would need in a fight with Israel. Why? Why do they continue this progression in terms of range of missiles? It’s something we need to think about,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering III, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, told a conference in London on missile defense.

“Our short-range defenses could protect Rome and Athens, but London, Paris and Brussels would remain vulnerable against an Iranian [intermediate-range missile] threat,” he said.

Many in Europe have expressed doubts that Iran would target European cities. But other observers have said European governments shouldn’t be so complacent and didn’t fully appreciate the hatred for Europe felt among Islamist extremists.



India last week successfully test-fired its first nuclear-capable missile, called a K-15, from an undersea platform, the Indian defense ministry said.

The launch from a submerged pontoon took place off India’s southeast coast near the port city of Visakhapatnam on Tuesday. “The test was successful. We are waiting further details,” a ministry spokesman said.

The K-15 has a range of 700-km and by successfully testing the missile, India will join the group of five countries, the U.S., Russia, France, and China, which are equipped with the technology of undersea nuclear deterrence, Indian media reported.

* There have been many previous items about India on this email list, including the fourth item, titled “India opens massive weapons fair, denies arming for war,” in last week’s dispatch: As Musharraf’s party concedes defeat, an analysis of Pakistani-Israeli relations (Feb. 19, 2008).



Seven Islamic extremists have been charged in connection with last month’s attack on the Israeli Embassy in Mauritania.

Judge Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Talhata said that five Mauritanians and two Tunisians have been charged with “participating in an organization whose aim is to carry out terrorist acts.”

The judge described the men as “Salafist jihadists,” belonging to the Algerian-based movement that recently began calling itself “Al-Qaeda in Islamic North Africa.”

The men shouted “Allah Akbar!” (“God is great!”) as they carried out the attack. They are believed to be part of the same group that murdered four French tourists in Mauritania in December.

Mauritania is one of only a handful of Arab League members that has diplomatic relations with Israel.



This weekend both the Saudi and Kuwaiti governments issued statements calling on their citizens to leave Lebanon. And if they decide to stay they should exercise extreme caution, they said. Both countries fear Lebanon is heading for a possible major outbreak of violence between Hizbullah and more moderate, pro-Western Sunni and Christian forces. Meanwhile, in a move condemned by Syria and Hizbullah, the USS Cole has taken up position in international waters off the Lebanese coast.



Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is prepared to declare dead the two soldiers kidnapped inside Israel by Hizbullah in 2006, according to a report in the German magazine Der Spiegel.

Olmert’s spokesman would not comment on the report. Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were shot and wounded and then taken captive in a cross-border raid by Hizbullah on July 12, 2006, prompting Israel to send troops into Lebanon to try and free them. Six other Israelis were killed by Hizbullah in the raid.

German negotiators have long enjoyed close ties with Hizbullah which lends the Der Spiegel report greater credibility.

The kidnap raid was believed to have been planned by Hizbullah’s then chief of operations, Imad Mughniyeh. For more on Mughniyeh, see the dispatch of Feb. 14, 2008 titled He’s not quite Osama Bin Laden... But he almost is.



U.S.-made Patriot missiles have been deployed in northern Israel as part of precautions for a potential attack by Hizbullah. The Lebanon-based terrorist organization has blamed Israel for the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh (see above).

During the 2006 conflict, Hizbullah fired about 4,000 Katyusha rockets at the Jewish state, hitting civilian homes, hospitals and workplaces throughout one third of Israeli territory.

Patriot batteries were first deployed in Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, but they failed to stop most of the 39 Scud missiles fired by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.



With Lebanon in political deadlock and Hizbullah threatening to renew hostilities with Israel, Israeli defense officials have expressed concern that European countries, particularly Spain, will gradually reduce their participation in UNIFIL over the coming year. UNIFIL is supposed to protect Israel from Hizbullah attack.

A high-ranking defense official told The Jerusalem Post that Israel had indications Spain was considering withdrawing its forces from Lebanon.

Spanish peacekeepers have come under repeated attack by terrorist groups in southern Lebanon and in July, six members of the Spanish contingent were killed in an attack on their convoy near the village of el-Hiyam.



Gunmen burst into the Al-Nour Baptist School in Gaza and caused substantial destruction to the premises after beating and humiliating the guards and wounding one of them with gunfire, the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam reports.

In a separate incident, the YMCA library in Gaza was blown up last month and thousands of books were burned. YMCA director Eissa Saba said 14 men overpowered the center’s two security guards before placing bombs in the library and main office. Since Israel left Gaza, Palestinian Christians have been repeatedly targeted by Islamists and some have been murdered.

Palestinians on this email list tell me that the YMCA provides many activities for young people in Gaza, as well as a kindergarten for Muslim children. The over 10,000 burned books were used mainly by students in high schools and universities, and the library was seen as an invaluable and unique educational resource in Gaza.

For more on the dire plight of Gazan Christians see previous dispatches on this list, as well as the Bloomberg news agency article in today’s other dispatch.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.