Hamas leadership in hiding

Monday, October 27, 2003

GAZA CITY Hamas's political leadership has remained underground in fear of an Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian sources said such leaders as Abdul Aziz Rentisi and Mahmoud A-Zahar have taken refuge in hideouts around Gaza City to avoid being targeted by Israeli forces and helicopters. The sources said the move was decided after the Israeli assassination of Ismail Abu Shanab.

The Hamas leaders have been underground for more than two months and could stay out of sight until the end of the year, the sources said. They said Hamas fears that Israel has prepared a massive ground assault meant to destroy the organization, Middle East Newsline reported.

The sources said Rentisi and his aides have already appointed replacements for the leadership. They said the replacements could issue statements and serve as spokespeople while Rentisi and A-Zahar remain underground.

Meanwhile, Hamas over the weekend has intensified attacks against Israeli communities and military outposts in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas launched several attacks against the Gush Katif bloc of Israeli communities in the central Gaza Strip over the weekend. Four Palestinian insurgents were killed.

Israeli military sources said the Hamas insurgents tried to enter two communities in Gush Katif on early Sunday. The sources said reconnaissance units spotted the insurgents and they were killed by ground forces.

The Hamas insurgents appear to have coordinated their operation, the sources said. They said they expect additional attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Later on Sunday, Hamas gunners fired a Kassam-class short-range missile toward the Israeli city of Sderot. The missile fell nearby Sderot and nobody was injured.

On Friday, Hamas insurgents killed three Israeli soldiers in a base in the Israeli community of Netsarim south of Gaza City. The dead soldiers were members of the elite Shimshon battalion who were killed during a multi-pronged Hamas attack on Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip.

On early Sunday, Israeli infantry and engineering forces destroyed three uninhabited buildings -- each of them 13-stories apiece and which included a police station -- several hundreds meters from Netsarim. The sources said the engineering units brought three tons of explosives to destroy the buildings, which belonged to the Palestinian Authority's Preventive Security Apparatus.

Israeli military sources said the police station was the launching pad for Friday's attack on Netsarim while the other buildings were used as a reconnaissance outposts. Military sources said about 2,000 Palestinians were evacuated to ensure that the destruction of the buildings, construction of which began in 1996, would not result in collateral damage.

"The three buildings served for a long time as a reconnaissance outpost of military activities in Netsarim," Brig. Gen. Gadi Shamni, commander of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, said. "The terrorists took their time in planning their route [to Netsarim] so there would not be any confusion."

Officials said the attack on Netsarim was a joint operation by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They said the two insurgents prepared for the attack for from the nearby Gaza City suburb of Al Zahrah.

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