Fatah split over suicide missions

Special to World
Tuesday, January 7, 2003

JERUSALEM The ruling Fatah movement headed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is said to be divided over continuing suicide attacks inside Israel.

Israeli and Palestinian sources said the dispute pits a powerful element supported by Iran, Iraq and Syria that wants attacks in Israel to continue against an element aligned with Western governments that is calling for a ceasefire with Israel.

The sources said that the pro-suicide attackers have set the tone in Fatah and are supported by Arafat. They said Arafat provides thousands of dollars to the family of each suicide bomber sent by Fatah or its aligned Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

Palestinian sources said the two suicide bombers who killed 22 people in Tel Aviv on Sunday were from the Fatah movement. They said the bombers belonged to a cell in Nablus that operated in coordination with the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad.

We swear before our people [the Palestinians] that additional suicide operations will occur [soon]," an Al Aqsa statement said.

The leader of the Fatah opposition to suicide attacks is Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen and secretary of the PLO Executive Council. Abbas has argued that such missions are destroying Palestinian society as well as any hope for a viable Palestinian state.

But Palestinian sources said many members of Fatah are no longer loyal to the organization. They said the dissidents obtain salaries and training from Islamic elements based in Damascus and Teheran and are linked to Hizbullah and Jihad.

The dispute within Fatah also concerns loyalty to the Palestinian Authority. PA ministers who are members of Fatah want the movement to honor new restrictions on the display of weapons and the wearing of masks.

But many Fatah members have ignored these directives. Palestinian sources said they continue to parade in the streets with their weapons, including during the celebration of anniversary of the Fatah movement last week. Fatah gunmen fired in the air despite a PA ban.

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