Hamas leadership locked in strategy dispute

Friday, November 5, 2004

LONDON Hamas has remained divided between the leadership in the Gaza Strip and that in Syria.

Hamas sources said the two factions have been arguing over strategy by the Islamic insurgency group. They said the debate has paralyzed the organization and prevented the establishment of a strong command structure.

The debate has encompassed Hamas policy toward Israel amid its plans to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip, Middle East Newsline reported. The sources said the debate also includes Hamas policy in wake of the departure of the ailing Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

"There is a debate within Hamas about strategy," Ghazi Hamad, a leading Hamas figure and editor of the movement's weekly, Al Risala, said. "They are asking themselves: Should we intensify the operations so Sharon can leave Gaza under fire -- that is, should we bleed him or let him go out on his own?"

"The inside leadership is for keeping the resistance going," Hamad said. "But the outside leadership is not."

[On Monday, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed three Israelis in an attack on a major Tel Aviv market. The Palestinian was identified as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and a resident of a refugee camp in the northern West Bank.]

Hamad, also head of the Hamas-aligned Islamic Salvation Party, has been regarded as one of the most authoritative sources on Hamas. He has been arrested numerous times by the PA for articles in Al Risala.

Hamas sources agreed with Hamad's assessment and said the debate has intensified in wake of Arafat's departure for medical treatment in France.

Several sources said the Syrian-based leadership has pressed Hamas operatives in Gaza to exploit the absence of Arafat. The sources said the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip, however, has warned against any attempt to undermine the Arafat regime.

In an interview with the Qatari-based A-Jazeera, Hamad said the Islamic insurgency group was controlled by an "underground leadership." He said that unlike the ruling Fatah movement, Hamas has remained cohesive in the Gaza Strip.

At the same time, he said, Hamas leaders based in Damascus have been strengthened amid the Israeli assassination of senior operatives in the Gaza Strip. On Oct. 21, Israeli aircraft fired two missiles that killed Adnan Al Ghoul, the architect of the Kassam short-range missile project.

Hamad said the Israeli assassinations of Hamas leaders Ahmed Yassin and Abdul Aziz Rantisi in early 2004 bolstered the standing of Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Masha'al and his deputy Mussa Abu Marzouk.

"It is not easy to compensate their losses of Rantisi and Yassin, so the outside leadership is gaining strength," Hamad said.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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