Syrian nuclear chief eliminated (& IDF soldiers risk lives to rescue Fatah men)

August 05, 2008

* Ma’ariv today: In recent days there have been many executions in broad daylight on the streets of Gaza, often in front of cameras. Hamas thugs lined people up, tied their hands behind their back, made them crouch on the ground and then executed them one by one with shots to the head. Newspapers and TV stations around the world have not reported this or aired footage. Why?

(This is quite a long dispatch. There will now be no dispatches for the next two weeks, to give you all a summer break.)



1. Key Assad advisor “shot dead by sniper on a yacht”
2. “Murdered Syrian security officer knew too much”
3. Dissidents quick to point the finger at the regime
4. A Lebanese Sunni operation with Saudi help?
5. Ahmadinejad refuses to go to Ataturk mausoleum during Turkey visit
6. New York Times “balances” coverage of Palestinian killings
7. Fatah “refugees” bused to Jericho
8. IDF soldiers risked lives to rescue Fatah men escaping from Gaza
9. Fatah calls for global boycott of Hamas
10. Hizbullah “planning attack on Israelis in west Africa”
11. Ceasefire breached again: three mortars land in western Negev
12. Five Palestinians suffocate to death after Egypt blows up tunnel
13. Hebrew University won’t let terrorist finish his doctorate
14. “Hizbullah stronger than before and ready to strike Israel” (D. Telegraph, Aug. 2, 2008)
15. “Saudi HRC will look into Bidoons’ problems” (Khaleej Times, Aug. 2, 2008)

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


A close advisor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was shot and killed by a sniper on a beach in the northwestern Syrian coastal city of Tartous on Friday, reported the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat citing “well informed sources.” Other sources said that the sniper fire came from a yacht off the coast.

The Al Bawaba website later named him as Gen. Mohammed Suleiman, a security advisor and liaison between Syria and the Lebanese terror group Hizbullah. The incident has not been mentioned in the Syrian media, and some other Arabic-language media are reporting that the Syrian regime has been trying to quash the story. No group has taken responsibility for the killing.

Israeli intelligence sources say that Suleiman was Assad’s special missions man, his most trusted secret advisor with key knowledge of Damascus’s nuclear weapons program.

The Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot reports that “The Syrian nuclear chief has been eliminated,” and quotes unnamed experts saying “this is a heavy blow to Assad.”



Syrian exiles were quoted yesterday in the London-based Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat saying that Suleiman may have “known too much for his own good.”

Asharq al-Awsat is Saudi-owned and is critical of the Assad regime in Damascus, which it regards as being far too close to Iran.

“General Muhammad Suleiman was the closest person to Bashar al-Assad and his right hand in the armed forces. He knew everything,” an unidentified Syrian was quoted as saying in Asharq al-Awsat. “He had all the files: security, financial and military.”

The paper also said Suleiman was among the Syrian officials who were going to be called upon to give evidence before the international tribunal to investigate the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.



Syrian dissidents suggested the Assad regime may itself have got rid of Suleiman, fearful that he knew too much about Damascus’s assassinations of Hariri and other Lebanese reformist politicians over the last few years.

They speculated that Damascus has noted the recent indictment issued against Sudanese President Omar Bashir by the International Criminal Court in The Hague and is covering its tracks. “They may have used a sniper to suggest it was an outside job, but it is likely the regime themselves wanted to get rid of him before he spilled the beans about Syria’s nuclear dealings with North Korea and other matters,” said one.

Early next year, the UN-established Special Tribunal for Lebanon is expected to begin trying those suspected of killing Hariri in 2005.



It is doubtful that Israel was behind the killing. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is unlikely to have authorized such an audacious act in the midst of negotiations with Syria. Almost all the information about the killing originates with Saudi sources and it seems that this attack may have been carried out with by Lebanese anti-Hizbullah Sunnis, possibly with Saudi assistance.

However, from the point of view of all those who are threatened by Hizbullah and by Damascus’s nuclear ambitions, including Israel, Suleiman’s assassination may be even more significant than that of Hizbullah operations chief Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in a car bomb in Damascus in February. (See this dispatch for more details of Mughniyeh’s death.)

Asharq al-Awsat reports today that a number of senior Syrian officials attended Suleiman’s funeral on Sunday, including Assad’s younger brother Maher, who heads Syria’s Republican Guard.



About the same time Suleiman was being killed, President Assad left for Tehran. In his meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ahmadinejad said “Iran and Syria will forever stay beside each other” and that in the future “the collapse of the Zionist entity will be achievable.”

Here is a photo of their meeting.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz warned on Saturday that Iran would be able to enrich uranium by next year and would have weapons-grade materials by 2010.

European nations are lobbying against any military action being taken to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, in much the same way as they appeased Hitler’s military build-up in the 1930s.


Meanwhile Ahmadinejad has changed his “state visit” to Turkey into a “working visit” in order to avoid what would have been a mandatory visit to the mausoleum of Ataturk. (Details in Persian here.)

The Turks are furious at this snub to Ataturk, the revered founding father of modern Turkey.



For the first time in decades The New York Times has a reporter in Jerusalem, Isabel Kershner, who is at least trying to be even-handed in her coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rather than constantly slanting news against Israel. Kershner is currently the number two in The New York Times’s Jerusalem bureau.

On July 29, The New York Times published an article about the ongoing Fatah-Hamas fighting, under the title “Palestinian Factions Escalate Arrests.” Kershner reported on the deaths of five Palestinian adults and a young girl at the hands of fellow Palestinians.

But the article didn’t involve Israel-bashing, so the editors at the Times in New York decided to “even things out” by placing only one photograph on the page, right on top of Kershner’s article. The photograph, unrelated to the article, showed a Palestinian man lying on the ground, surrounded by menacing-looking Israeli police.



Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is still refusing to grant long-term asylum in the West Bank to the Fatah forces who fled to Israel on Saturday after intense fighting with Hamas in Gaza.

Abbas urged nearly 200 gunmen supportive of his own Fatah faction to return to Gaza, saying Fatah is not ready to cede total control of the strip to the Islamist terror group, Hamas.

At least 11 people were killed and dozens wounded on Saturday during a Hamas raid on a Fatah stronghold in Gaza City.

Many of the injured Palestinians are being treated in two Israeli hospitals, including the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, which (as previously noted on this weblist) has in recent months been targeted by rockets fired from Gaza, possibly even by some of the very same gunmen who are now being treated there.

Hospital officials said that at least 12 of those who were wounded in Saturday’s fighting were aged 14 years or younger. Unsurprisingly, western “human rights” groups haven’t mentioned this.

Eighty-seven members of the Gaza-based Hilles clan, allied with Fatah, were put on two buses in Beersheba yesterday afternoon and transported to Jericho in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority has set up a temporary residence for them near the Palestinian National Security headquarters there.


Israel says it has no objection to the Fatah men staying in Jericho but Abbas wants to move them back to Gaza. Israeli security officials say they will likely be killed by Hamas should they return to Gaza.

Some residents of Jericho expressed fear that the presence of the heavily-armed Hilles clan in their city would have a negative impact on tourism. There has been an upsurge in the number of tourists visiting Jericho in recent months, including Israeli Arabs spending the weekend at the Jericho Resort Town and the Intercontinental Hotel.

A Jericho restaurant owner told Israeli press that in the past he and his colleagues had been exposed to threats and extortion by “Fatah gangsters.”

The Hilles clan had established its own “mini-state” in Gaza, with its own military training base and a number of workshops for manufacturing weapons. Members of the clan were also involved in various types of criminal activities. Abbas fears their presence in the West Bank would damage efforts to impose law and order there.



The Israeli army (IDF) forces that rescued dozens of Fatah members who were fleeing Gaza on Saturday night did so under heavy machine gun, sniper and mortar fire, putting their own lives at risk, Northern Gaza Brigade Commander Colonel Ron Ashrov told Yediot Ahronot.



The Palestinian Authority yesterday urged a “total international boycott of Hamas.”

A Fatah representative in Ramallah, Fahmi A-Zahrir, also said Hamas must be taken out of the Palestinian Authority’s legal demarcation, adding that the Islamist group had “lost its right to political existence.”

Other Fatah officials have voiced strong criticism of those in the West, including former American president Jimmy Carter, who are attempting to legitimize Hamas, which wants to create an Islamic state on the areas that presently comprise Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.



Israeli intelligence has warned Israeli citizens living in west Africa that Hizbullah may try to kill them. Hundreds of Israelis live in west Africa, including businessmen, scientists and aid workers helping the local African population, as well as people working in the diamond trade. West Africa also has a large Arab immigrant community, which includes Shia immigrants from Lebanon.

Hizbullah may also be planning a “low profile” attack which would involve it not publicly claiming responsibility, so as to avoid political repercussions. This was the case in the two attacks on Jewish targets in Argentina in the 1990s, which killed 85 and 29 respectively, and injured hundreds of others.

Two months ago, Shia activists connected to Hizbullah were arrested in Canada. They were believed to be in the advanced stages of preparation of a plot against Toronto synagogues, and are still in custody.

* For more background, see “Hizbullah in West Africa,” by W. Thomas Smith Jr. in World Defense Review.



Three mortar shells fired by Hamas gunmen in Gaza late Saturday landed in the western Negev, causing widespread panic among Israeli civilians living in the area. No injuries or damage were reported.



Five Palestinians were killed and 18 wounded in a smuggling tunnel under the Gaza-Egypt border after Egyptian troops blew up the entrance, an Egyptian security official and Gaza hospital doctors said on Saturday. Gaza hospital officials said the five suffocated after being deprived of oxygen.

A wide network of tunnels runs under the border and is used to bring weapons into Gaza. In recent months, Egypt has begun cracking down on the smugglers. In the past week alone, Egypt has destroyed 14 tunnels, an Egyptian official told the Israeli paper Ha’aretz.

Since the beginning of the year, 27 Palestinians have been killed in tunnels, including the five killed on Friday evening.

If Israel had killed five Palestinians last Friday this would have been headline news for hours on end on BBC World TV and radio broadcasts. Instead, it was barely mentioned.

The best-known defender of these arms-smuggling tunnels, who tried to keep them open, was American political activist Rachel Corrie. (For a photo of Corrie at a pro-Hamas rally in Gaza, scroll down here.)



* This is a follow-up to the item 16 in this dispatch last month.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has announced that convicted Palestinian terrorist Adel Hadmi will not be allowed to return to the university to finish his doctorate in chemistry.

“Hadmi will not be returning to the laboratories or to the university. The Hebrew University has agreed to review his thesis to determine if he is eligible to continue his PhD, but he has been specifically barred from the laboratory due to security considerations,” a university spokeswoman said.

“According to the law, even ex-cons must be given the opportunity to educate themselves, and so we have agreed to examine his written work without allowing him into the university,” she added.

As a student at the university in 2002, Hadmi had taken chemicals from the lab in order to use them in a suicide bomb attack.



I am glad the (London) Daily Telegraph is reporting this but don’t know why they call it an “exclusive”. This news has been repeatedly reported on this email list for over a year. Telegraph journalists subscribe to this mailing list.


Telegraph Exclusive: Hizbullah ‘stronger than before’ and ready to strike Israel
By David Blair in Tyre
The Daily Telegraph
August 2, 2008

Hizbullah has significantly built up its military arsenal on the Israeli border and is ready to respond with force to any provocation, its senior commander has told the Telegraph.

The political and military group’s senior commander in southern Lebanon said in a rare interview that Hizbullah was far stronger now than when it fought the Israeli army in a conflict in 2006.

Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, who leads Hizbullah’s forces on Lebanon’s border with Israel – the crucial battlefront of any future war, was speaking in the port city of Tyre. “The resistance is now stronger than before and this keeps the option of war awake. If we were weak, Israel would not hesitate to start another war,” he said. “We are stronger than before and when Hizbullah is strong, our strength stops Israel from starting a new war... We don’t seek war, but we must be ready.”

Hizbullah, whose missiles killed 43 Israeli civilians during the war of 2006, is considered a terrorist organization by the US and Britain.

Other sources say Hizbullah has trebled its arsenal in the last two years – from 10,000 missiles to about 30,000. These new weapons have longer ranges and heavier warheads. They include the Zelzal missile, which could strike as far south as Tel Aviv, and the C802 anti-shipping missile, capable of sinking Israeli warships.

Any American strike on Iran, for example, could be the trigger for a Hizbullah attack on Israel.

Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah’s overall leader, started the 2006 conflict with the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers whose corpses were recently returned to Israel.

Mr Kaouk did not deny that Hizbullah was reliant on Iran for military hardware and support. “We are proud of our friendship with Iran and with Syria and every country which helps us to gain our rights,” he said. His remarks will be examined closely in Washington as Iran presses ahead with its nuclear programme.

Iran is currently weighing its response to the West’s latest offer of incentives to suspend the enrichment of uranium but has signaled that for now it is not about to change its stance.

Asked where Hizbullah’s weapons came from, Mr Kaouk said: “All parties in Lebanon are getting weapons. No one asks from where.”

Iran is Hizbullah’s supplier and paymaster. Tehran’s regime and Hizbullah are fellow Shias and their alliance is a crucial power factor in the Middle East. Iran delivers the missiles to southern Lebanon through Syria. Meanwhile, Hizbullah fighters travel to Iran for military training.

If the US attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities, Hizbullah could retaliate by firing its missiles into Israel. Hence Iran possesses a vital interest in building this arsenal. Asked how Hizbullah would respond to an attack on Iran, Mr Kaouk replied: “I doubt that Israel will attack Iran because they know the consequences.”

Mr Kaouk said the 2006 war, which claimed 1,100 Lebanese lives, had been a success. “Israel didn’t achieve any of its goals. The known goal of Israel is ‘death to Hizbullah’. Hizbullah is still here.”



Here is an article on the poor stateless Bidoons, another Middle East minority which the BBC and others ignore because they are not in conflict with Israel.


Saudi HRC will look into Bidoons’ problems
Khaleej Times
August 2, 2008

The Saudi Arabian Human Rights Commission (HRC) has decided to study the problems of certain “stateless” tribes living in the kingdom without citizenship.

“Over the coming months, a high level committee of HRC officials will look into complaints of these people, who call themselves Saudi Bidoons,” Zuhair Al Harithy, a HRC spokesman, said.

The word “bidoon” comes from the Arabic expression, “bidoon jinsiya,” which literally means “without nationality.”

“The HRC will hold a meeting to discuss the committee’s findings and then submit a final report to concerned government departments so that the bidoons can get their rights in full,” he said and added that the group’s major demands include obtaining Saudi citizenship and a right to own property.

The Arabic daily Al Watan reported on Monday that according to Al Harithy, the complaints received by the committee, were mainly related to violations of rights concerning health and education services. He added that it was hard to get the precise number of bidoons in the kingdom, but he believed their number was significant and that they were living in different parts of the country.

According to Muhammad Al Zulfah, a member of the Shoura Council, people facing citizenship problems are of three categories – Africans who came and settled in the kingdom a long time ago, the Burmese Muslims who fled their country because of oppression, and Arab tribes who had left Saudi Arabia in the past but now want to return.

The bidoons are also found in Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. In Kuwait, the bidoon may be refugees who had illegally entered the country to avoid poverty or war, or those who have settled there since 1920 but have not been recognised by the state.

Thousands of Bidoon families in the Gulf had hoped that an application for citizenship in the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros might mean an end to their legal limbo.

But their bid for Comoran nationality was refused this week at a stormy session of parliament on the main island of Grande-Comore.

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