Hamas Divided Against Itself

Middle East Intelligence Bullitin 06/99

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Yasser Arafat's intelligence agencies have succeeded in neutralizing armed activities by the al Kassam brigades, the military arm of Hamas in the occupied territories--reportedly with the assistance of Israel's Shin Bet and the CIA, which now has a major presence in Ramallah. Gen. Amin Al Hindi, head of PA's General Intelligence service, is the central figure responsible for contacts with these other agencies.

Al Hindi met recently with Abdulaziz al Rantissi, former head of the Hamas military branch's intelligence service, Ezzedin al Kassam, in his cell in Gaza, where he was jailed on April 9, 1998. Al Hindi convinced him to sign a letter urging members of the brigades to freeze all military actions. Meanwhile, Col. Mohamed Dahlan, head of the Preventive Security service in the Gaza strip, met with the current head of the al Kassam brigades, Mohamed Daif, who is said to be living under a fake identity in the Jabalia camp. Daif, who is considered one of the 10 most wanted militants by the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, made an arrangement with Dahlan that included protection for himself. Daif reportedly called off planned attacks against colonies established by Israel's Ghouch Katif movement by brigade units operating in the "dangerous triangle" between Deir Al Balah and the camps of Chatey and Khan Youne.

While neutralizing the military wing of Hamas, Arafat has succeeded with American help in cutting off millions of dollars that Hamas had been receiving from the outside. Because of this funding shortage, Hamas' extensive network of social services which bolsters its popularity among impoverished Palestinians has declined dramatically. Consequentially, support for the group has dropped to a record low of 10%, according to recent polls.

In light of these developments, Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader and founder of Hamas, caused a stir by openly participating in a meeting of the Palestinian National Council in April. Yassin not only gave tacit recognition of Arafat's authority by attending the meeting, but publicly endorsed Arafat's decision to postpone the declaration of an independent state.

Yassin was subsequently denounced by hardline Hamas leaders abroad, most notably Khaled Meshal, head of the political bureau, Mussa Abu Marzuk, the movement's treasurer and Imad Alami, its representative in Damascus. Fierce criticism of Yassin, whose character was until recently considered beyond reproach even by secular Palestinians, has gradually begun to emerge inside the occupied territories as well. In Gaza, a militant Hamas faction calling itself "Units of the Martyr Yahya Ayash" distributed leaflets earlier this month charging Yassin with responsibility for the deaths of several members of the al Kassam brigades and called upon him to "come to your senses or resign."

The ultimate objectives of the two opposing camps remain the same, however: putting an end to the Oslo process, supplanting the secular regime of Yasser Arafat, and (eventually) driving the Israelis out of Palestine altogether. The main differences between the two camps concern tactics.

Yassin's Faction

Yassin and his followers have made a calculated decision to forgo violent attacks against Israel for the time being and focus their time and effort in rebuilding the organizational base of the movement and in revitalizing its educational and social welfare institutions. Achieving these short term goals necessitates cooperation with the PA. However, this is a short-term compromise. In a May 2 interview, a spokesman for Yassin, Dr. Mahmoud Zahar, noted that the reduction in tensions between Hamas and the PA should not be misconstrued as an abandonment of its core objectives. "We are going to achieve our plan. So we are just giving [PA President Yasser Arafat] a chance in order to achieve a step," said Zahar. The interview continued:

IMRA: But it would not be a last step.

Zahar: No.

IMRA: All of Palestine is the last step?

Zahar: Yes.

IMRA: Now between that first step and that later step, you see a rest period?

Zahar: It would depend on the Israeli side. If they are going to continue their violations of our rights that would be one thing. We are ready for a cease-fire.

IMRA: If you are left with a cease fire that leaves you with the West Bank and Gaza but not the rest of Palestine which you also consider a Moslem Wakf - is this a cease fire forever?

Zahar: This would be a cease fire that would be declared for a specific amount of time - one year, two years, five years. We are not speaking about a cease-fire now while the other side is not accepting it.1

Meshal's Faction

The Hamas leadership in Jordan and Damascus, being divorced from the exigencies of organizational development on the ground, cling to terrorist activity against Israel as an instant crowd-pleaser to bolster their popularity among the teaming masses in Gaza. Meshal conceded during a meeting in Amman on March 26 that it had become highly difficult or even impossible for the Ezzedine al Kassam brigades to conduct suicide bomb attacks against Israel like those carried out in 1997-98 due to "repressive measures" by the Palestinian Authority's security agencies.

Meshal has hinted, however, that different types of suicide assaults could spring from new anti-Israeli alliances. Western security sources have reported that Hamas representatives attended numerous meetings at the Fayruzi Palace in Iran, along with officials of Iran's foreign intelligence service, leaders of fundamentalist Islamic organizations in Jordan, and Hamas and Hezbollah representatives. The groups also met recently at the Iranian Embassy in the al-Janah area of Beirut. The meeting was said to have been attended by top officials from the Iranian Embassy, an official from the Middle East department of Iran's VEVAK, and representatives from the Hezbollah, Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - the General Command as well as Jordanian fundamentalist groups. A report on the "shuttle meetings" between Teheran and Beirut asserts that the consultations focused on issues regarding fundamentalist Islamic activities in Jordan amid growing Israeli intelligence activity in the kingdom.

Sources close to Meshal have said that an alliance is currently being forged at the Rashidiye camp in southern Lebanon between Hamas' covert military units and the Islamic Jihad in Palestine, whose headquarters are located in Damascus. In addition, the two movements are dovetailing their activity more closely with Hezbollah in Lebanon and with Iran's Pasdarans, who are gaining a strong foothold in the main Palestinian camps at Al Biddaouji in northern Lebanon and Ain al-Hilweh and Rashidiye in the south. Fighters are being recruited in unprecedented numbers in the camps, including from among supporters of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. Iran's Institution of Martyrs headed by mullah Hussein Rahimian is turning over large amounts of cash to families of the recruits.

The "volunteers" are sent to Hezbollah camps in the Oronte valley east of the Baalbeck Valley for basic training before traveling on to Teheran for further instruction in Pasdaran camps in the suburbs of the Iranian capital. Similar enrollments are taking place in Palestinian camps in Jordan, for instance the Bakaa camp near Amman. In the latter facility, however, Jordanian intelligence has let Arafat's men infiltrate the personnel and put a halt to recruitment. During a meeting on April 1, Arafat and Jordan's new king, Abdallah II, agreed that the measures being applied to Hamas by the Palestinian Authority would henceforth apply to all camps located in Jordan.

A tripartite committee sees to operational liaison between Hamas, Jihad and Hezbollah. It is composed of Meshal and his movement's representative in Teheran, Mustapha al Kanou; Jihad is represented by its secretary-general, Ramdan Challah, its leader in Lebanon, Abu Imad and the chief of its military wing, Anwar Abu Taha; Hezbollah is represented by its military chief, Fouad Chakar, known under the name of Hajj Mohsen. The panel organizes the training of new Kamikaze who will be assigned missions at a later date.

1 Interview with IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis), 2 May 1999.


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