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February 20, 2003

All the News That's Fit to Spin
Who caused the explosion that killed six Hamas terrorists this past Sunday? It's an interesting question that's still not entirely clear. The Washington Post, for example, noted in an article "6 Palestinians Die in Gaza Blast; 3 Killed in West Bank " that:
The Israeli army has killed numerous Palestinian militants by rigging cars, telephone booths and cellular telephones with explosives. But many other Palestinian militants have died while trying to build or transport often unstable homemade bombs.
Similarly in a New York Times article, "Hamas Says Israel Killed at Least 6 in Gaza Blast" the reporter notes:
Hamas blamed Israel for the blast today, suggesting that the men were killed by a booby-trapped toy plane. But the Israeli government did not comment on the deaths. Israel has tracked down and killed scores of militants, often without claiming responsibility. Many have also died by accidentally triggering bombs they were assembling.
James Bennet of the New York Times does all he can to suggest that the Israeli government was responsible for the explosion. For example, in the above paragraph, he uses the Israeli government's silence on the explosion as support for his belief.
Still the Washington Post reports:
It was unclear tonight which scenario was more likely the cause of today's deaths, which occurred in the al-Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza City, a Hamas stronghold.
The Jerusalem Post, on the other hand, makes it clear that it believes that the explosion was the result of a work accident: Six Hamas men killed while packing drone with explosives The JPost seems to be focusing on a Hamas statement:
Hours after the incident Hamas released a statement declaring the six were planning to pack an unmanned drone with explosives to blow up inside Israel in a mega-attack.
Still the JPost doesn't clarify that the terrrorists were actually working on rigging the plane at the time. The NY Times on the other hand even plays down the Hamas statement:
Later, in a statement, Hamas said the men had been working on a small remote-controlled plane, which they evidently planned to use in an attack. Hamas said the men had received the plane today, implying that it had been booby-trapped by Israel.
"[E]vidently?" Both the JPost and Ha'aretz reported that Hamas claimed that the terrorists were planning to use a remote-controlled plane in an attack on Israel. Evidently the confirmation by Hamas is not enough for the Times. The Washington Post also seems to have missed something here:
In the Gaza Strip, the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, identified the six dead men as its members and said in a statement that they were killed in an explosion that occurred while the group was examining an item in the trunk of a car.
What that object might be isn't explained by the Washington Post. And the WPost is the only story of the four that doesn't mention that the terrorists were working with remotely controlled plane. The only drone the WPost mentions is the Israeli one that Hamas claimed triggered the explosion.
The report with the most details was the one from Ha'aretz:
Palestinian sources said the six had purchased the drone not long ago and that it had apparently come with a bomb hidden inside. Yesterday, the six were standing in a courtyard as the drone carried out a test flight overhead when the bomb exploded. Hamas' military wing is now trying to figure out how and from whom the six purchased the drone.
Army sources said that Hamas first showed an interest in pilotless drones, both as a means of collecting intelligence and as a means of carrying out attacks, about a year ago.
There seems to be a disconnect here: the suggestion in the first paragraph the drone was rigged by Israel; the second says that Hamas has been eyeing drones for an attack for awhile. (Of course, it's possible that Israel, aware of the new threat, boobytrapped a prototype. But there's no suggestion, except from Ha'aretz that that may have been the case. The American papers mostly consider the possibility that the killing of the six terrorists was revenge for the deadly attack by Hamas.)
Eric Silver of the Indpendent takes the Hamas line, pretty much uncritically, in his account of the explosion:
Hamas accused Israel last night of detonating a car bomb that killed six of the Islamic movement's activists and wounded three in a farm south of Gaza City yesterday.
The dead included Nidal Farkhat, a leading militant, whose brother killed five Jewish students in a Gaza settlement a year ago.
Palestinian witnesses said Sunday's blast was set off by remote control from a pilotless drone flying overhead. An Israeli spokesman lent credence to the report by declining to confirm or deny it. The explosion came as Israel was burying four soldiers killed on Saturday in the Gaza Strip after a roadside bomb, planted by Hamas, blew up their tank.
Israeli tanks entered Gaza City in the early hours of this morning, surrounded the house of a leading militant.Witnesses said about 35 tanks moved into position around a five-storey building in Gaza City where Ahmed Ghandour and his family live. Palestinians said Mr Ghandour is an aide to Hamas' bombmaker, Adnan al-Roul, believed responsible for planning the attack on the tank.
The war of revenge and counter-revenge is escalating. Abdul-Aziz Rantissi, a Hamas spokesman, said last night: "We will retaliate for this new crime, for Israel's new act of terror. They will pay a very expensive price."
By associating the explosion with the blockade of Ahmed Ghandour, Silver is attempting linkage. Even if Israel was responsible for knocking off the six terrorists, it seems unlikely it had anything to do with tank attack. Finally, it's worth mentioning that on January 14, 2003, DebkaFiles reported on, "Arafat’s New Terror Weapon: Exploding Toy Planes."
The Palestinian leader’s daily routine, as revealed by our intelligence data, is particularly revealing.
He is fully occupied in arranging the funding and deployment of new weapons, tricks, ruses and devices for the coming cycle of terrorist operations, that bank heavily on the effectiveness of… a toy: Model planes packed with explosives and operated by remote control .
Last month, Palestinian toy importers in Jerusalem and Ramallah were told to order hundreds of these toys for distribution to Palestinian children in hospitals. Subsidies from European Union member-governments could legitimately be allocated to this humanitarian purpose.
The model airplanes were purchased in Europe and shipped quite openly to the Palestinian shopkeepers.
According to our sources, not a single toy reached an injured Palestinian child. The model planes were sent to Palestinian workshops for conversion into miniature air bombers with explosive payloads. Tanzim militiamen from Arafat’s Fatah, sent out to open areas near Jericho to test the new weapons, discovered they could fly to a distance of 1 kilometer and an altitude of 300 meters. The only problem was how to guide the plane to target inside an Israeli built-up area when it was no longer visible to the remote control holder. A small adjustment was made in the engine enabling him to cut it out from a distance, so that it dropped to the ground and blew up.
Ha'aretz, pretty much confirms the gist - though not the particulars - of this report. For the papers - Washington Post and Independent - that ignored the reports that the PA is attempting to use remote control planes for terror attacks, it's one more example of how the media - wittingly or unwittingly - covers for Arafat & co. While I shed no tears for the six who were killed, I am no more convinced now that Israel killed them than I was when I started. The New York Times was wrong for (echoing Eric Silver and ) slyly supporting the view that Israel arranged the explosion. I know that the Baltimore Jewish Times carries Eric Silver from Israel. I've never been a fan, but after reading this piece, I'm even more disgusted. How can any Jewish publication carry reports from a guy who openly sides with the enemy? This isn't my being upset over balance. Silver will say that I have blinders on for Israel. He clearly has blinders on for Hamas as he uncritically carries that organization's account in his report.
Cross-posted on David's Israel Blog.