Hamas: Military operations expose internal rifts

Published June 28th, 2006 - 03:08 GMT

In recent weeks, and especially since last Sunday's raid on an Israeli army post outside Gaza Strip which killed two Israeli soldiers and left one in Hamas hands, significant rifts have been exposed between the Hamas-led cabinet and Hamas’ military wing. The reality of such rifts has been in stark contrast with the image Hamas has so far portrayed in the public arena, one of staunch unity within the movement’s ranks.


Palestinian sources close to the Islamic Resistance Movement claim that since taking power in the Palestinian Authority, local Hamas leaders have found themselves in a delicate situation, mainly as a result of disputes within leadership circles outside of Palestine and especially with Damascus-based political chief, Khaled Meshaal.


The sources maintain that Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who has so far demonstrated pragmatism and willingness to compromise in order to reach a joint political platform with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, was especially surprised by Meshaal's intractable stance. Disagreements with Meshaal have reportedly led to delays in talks with Abbas. According to these sources, in several cases Haniyeh and Abbas reached understandings, only to discover that they were unacceptable to the Hamas leadership outside of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.


Furthermore, Palestinian sources maintain that the recent operations carried out by Hamas' military wing, Ezz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, were not coordinated with the Hamas-led government, but rather, were backed by the exiled leadership which holds authority over the group's military wing.


When the military wing resumed rocket attacks on Israel following the Gaza Strip beach carnage, Haniyeh reportedly requested one of the leaders of the wing to cease the firing. The request was flatly rejected.


One Arabic internet site reported in this relation that senior Hamas military commander Ahmed Jaabari (Abu Ahmed) told Haniyeh: “I don’t take orders from you, but will look into your request (to stop the rocket fire)." According to sources in Gaza, Jaabari, who is wanted by Israel and survived several assassination attempts on his life, would not have boldly disregarded Haniyeh’s authority without the backing of Meshaal.


According to renowned political analyst Mahmoud Saeed, since its establishment, Hamas’ military wing has taken orders from the party’s political leadership. In May 2002, Hamas military commander Salah Shehada, for example, stated publicly that "the political apparatus is sovereign over the military apparatus, and a decision of the political [echelon] takes precedence over the decisions of the military [echelon], without intervening in military operations." In July 2001, Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi told Reuters, "The political leadership has freed the hand of the [Ezz al-Din al-Qassam] Brigades to do whatever they want against the brothers of monkey and pigs."
However, according to Saeed, since the Hamas-led cabinet was established, many Hamas activists have chosen not to accept orders from the cabinet but have instead joined military operations against Israel in cooperation with other organizations.


Avoiding Israel’s wrath
Ongoing rocket attacks and Sunday’s successful military operation led Israeli officials to threaten the lives of Haniyeh and other top local Hamas leaders. Meanwhile Fatah officials close to Abbas have accused Meshaal of orchestrating Sunday’s assault as part of his efforts to thwart an imminent agreement between Fatah and Hamas. This is why President Abbas issued on Sunday a stern condemnation for the attack, hinting that Meshaal masterminded the operation and its timing.


"Does our people has the right to ask if those who carried out the attack represent themselves or a faction whom position was the national consensus to respect truce and committed to it," the statement said. "The Palestinian people will pay dearly cost and it would be a reward for the extremist parties willing of more escalation," the release said.


"At a time the national dialogue are continuing in a positive atmosphere, we caught by surprise in Kerm Shalom's attack and it is time to say the truth for our people, it has been conducting a serious and responsible dialogue with all factions with the present of the prime minister and his Ministers and all agreed to keep up truce and cease all the military operations against Israel based on collective belief not to give Israel any excuses to launch a military offensive against Gaza Strip and the consequent closure of the Strip's crossings, including Rafah border terminal, a thing that will aggravate the suffering that apex to unbearable," the statement added.


Palestinian sources noted that Sunday's events further exposed the gap between the Hamas-led cabinet and the military wing. For this reason, government spokesman Ghazi Hamad called on those holding the captive Israeli soldier to free him immediately, as Hamad, Haniyeh and other ministers fear that they will be targeted by Israel if the hostage is declared dead or held indefinitely.


Over 72 hours after the soldier's capture, no group has - including Hamas' military wing - claimed responsibility. This tactic is reminiscent of Hizbullah’s actions in late 2000, when the Shiite movement killed three Israeli soldiers on the Israeli-Lebanese border and kept their remains for future negotiations. The similarity of the modes of operation clearly demonstrates the lessons learned by Hamas and other Palestinian fighters from their Lebanese counterparts. Nonetheless, Palestinian sources also stress that the Hamas military wing and its heads in Damascus should recognize that continued operations such as those undertaken on Sunday are likely to result in severe Israeli reprisals that would further increase the suffering of the Palestinian people.


Those same sources claim that the fact that Arab and foreign leaders have been involved in frantic talks to secure the release of the soldier while remaining silent when Palestinian civilians are killed is further evidence of the problems facing the Palestinians since Hamas rose to power. Events in recent weeks have only led to more doubt as to the ability of Hamas to lead the Palestinian Authority and the public it represents out of hardship.

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