The real reason behind the Be'er Sheva suicide attacks in Israel

Tuesday's bomb attacks in Be'er Sheva could not have come at a better time for Sharon. He immediately used them to distract attention away from a few problems he was having at the beginning of the week. But why has Hamas suddenly returned to this kind of attack? Yossi Schwartz in Jerusalem explains.

On Monday things were not looking too good for Sharon. He had failed to persuade his cabinet to speed up a Gaza withdrawal agreed in principle by his government two months ago. At that time the government had announced that all 8000 settlers would leave Gaza by September of next year and troops would be pulled out by the end of 2005. This announcement had been cheered by US President George Bush in April. It was also welcomed by many Israelis in the so called "peace camp", and now even his own close friends were betraying him. This was unfair.

As if this were not bad enough it was clear that the Public Security Minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, would have to resign after Attorney General Menachem Mazuz had decided to open a criminal investigation against him following last week's State Comptroller's Report, which accused the minister of massive improper and political appointments during his term as Minister of the Environment in 2001-2003. Why did that idiot have to go and get himself caught just now, Sharon must have thought.

On Tuesday morning, Israeli troops opened fire on an ambulance at a military checkpoint in the southern Gaza Strip wounding a doctor and his driver, medics as a human rights group reported. It definitely looked like it was going to be another very day for Sharon. However, life is full of stranger and wonderful turns.

On Tuesday afternoon, sixteen people, including a three-year-old boy, were killed and about 100 others were wounded in suicide attacks on two buses in Be'er Sheva in the South of Israel. Israeli TV showed images of the two burnt-out buses, with flames shooting through the roof of one of the vehicles. At least two bodies, covered in white sheets, lay on the ground nearby.

Hamas carried out this criminal terrorist act against innocent civilians. The suicide bombers Ahmed Kawasma and Nassim Jabri of very well known families came from Hebron. These are the first suicide bombings inside Israel for five months.

Hamas spokesmen explained that the bombings in Be'er Sheva had been carried out to avenge the murder of their leaders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi, in early spring of this year. An Al-Jazeera television network correspondent asked the Hamas spokesman in Gaza Sami Abu-Zuhry why it had taken so long. To this he replied, "We had to prepare for this operation meticulously, so we waited."

This explanation however does not hold water. There is more to it than mere operational technicalities, as we will explain.

This criminal act ­– criminal both from a human and a political point of view ‑ came as a gift to Sharon. Sharon must have thought this was his lucky day after so much misfortune. He immediately moved away from his previous problems and went onto the offensive against terrorism. Ariel Sharon vowed in the wake of the attacks that "the fight against terror will continue with full strength." These attacks gave Sharon the chance to do what he is best at – military operations and distracting attention away from the problems he had been facing.

Sharon and his Defense Minister Saul Moa decided to launch a military offensive in the West Bank city of Hebron. He gave orders that Hebron should be surrounded and as a result the Palestinians' freedom of movement there will likely be severely limited. Shortly after the attacks, troops of the Israeli Defence Forces in the West Bank raided the bombers' homes.

Before these attacks took place Sharon had been trying to get a new bill through parliament concerning the evacuation of some of the settlers from Gaza. Despite opposition within his own party, Sharon told the lawmakers of his right-wing Likud party on Tuesday that a draft bill would win parliamentary approval by early November. The bill authorizing the evacuation of both settlers and soldiers from Gaza would be presented to cabinet ministers by September 26. Sharon would then seek cabinet approval for it by 24 October 24. "I expect that on 3 November, the law will be adopted by parliament," he added.

In response to Sharon's comments, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has declared that it is ready to assume its responsibilities in those areas of the occupied territories that will be evacuated by the Israelis. The PA has welcomed the Gaza pullout plan, saying they support an Israeli withdrawal from any parts of the West Bank and Gaza, and of course Uraiqat added: "We insist that eventual withdrawal forms part of the Road Map and is not a substitute for it".

Meanwhile the PA has endorsed Sharon's plans, in spite of the fact that Arafat and his men know full well that these include the aim to expand Israeli controlled territory into the West Bank. Hamas, on the other hand, is not so happy. Not because of any serious or principled opposition to Sharon's plan, but because of a much more serious matter. In spite of its agreement to be part of this deal, Sharon has refused to allow Hamas to be a partner.

We have explained in previous articles in the past that the real reason why Hamas did not act in the wake of the murder of its own leaders was that they were expecting to be included as partners in the Palestinian government in Gaza following Israeli withdrawal. This was confirmed on August 8, when the Egyptian daily al-Ahram informed its readers that the Egyptian government had reached an agreement with the Palestinian militant group Hamas guaranteeing Palestinian unity following any Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories.

The semi-official al-Ahram daily said the agreement regarded "supporting Palestinian national unity and the arrangements related to guaranteeing the integrity of the Palestinian house in the period after the Israeli withdrawal." Al-Ahram also said it had learnt that an agreement in principle had been reached between Israel and Egypt by which Egyptian border guards instead of the police force would patrol their country's border with Gaza.

In the Gaza Strip, Muslim leaders praised the "heroic operation" over mosque loudspeakers and about 20,000 Hamas supporters sang and threw candy in the streets of Gaza City in celebration at the bombings and the casualties they had caused.

However many Palestinians, who have had enough of all this senseless killing of innocent citizens - both Palestinian and Israeli - condemned the terrorist act.

Other critics however have a different motivation. They include Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who was in Cairo to prepare for Wednesday's scheduled meeting in Ramallah between Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, General Omar Suleiman and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat in preparation for their plans to impose pro-US and Israel "law and order" in Gaza should the Israeli withdrawal go ahead. This meeting however was postponed because of the terrorist act.

It does not take a genius to understand that Tuesday's terrorist acts, five months after the Israeli State terror that murdered two of the Hamas leaders, were aimed at achieving exactly this, the postponing of any agreement on Israeli withdrawal from Gaza that does not include Hamas as a partner to the deal. In other words this killing of 16 Israeli civilians was no more than a pressure tactic to allow Hamas to participate in the betrayal of the Palestinians in the West Bank in order to achieve power sharing in Gaza! This is how far the cynicism of these people goes!

It further emphasizes the need for a genuine working class leadership both among the people of Israel and among the Palestinians. So long as the initiative is in the hands of reactionaries on both sides no solution to the conflict will be forthcoming.