Arafat group sells bombers to Hamas for money, explosives

Thursday, January 15, 2004

GAZA CITY The movement led by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has joined the opposition Hamas in planning and carrying out suicide attacks against Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian sources said the cooperation between Fatah and Hamas was forged in late 2003. Under the arrangement, they said, Fatah agreed to provide suicide bombers in exchange for Hamas funding and explosive belts.

"The cooperation benefits Fatah because it is desperate for money," a Palestinian security source said. "Hamas gains because it does not want to be alone in carrying out attacks against Israel."

The two groups began to carry out joint attacks in the Gaza Strip last month, the sources said. They said the cooperation was approved by the Hamas leadership in wake of the failure of an Egyptian-U.S. effort to arrange a ceasefire in December 2003.

At one point, Palestinian sources said, the United States offered to guarantee the safety of Hamas leaders if they agreed to end attacks against Israel. Hamas leader Abdul Aziz Rentisi said his movement refused the U.S. offer.

"We will not stop the resistance even if the entire leadership is martyred," Rentisi told the A-Jazeera satellite channel.

On Wednesday, four Israelis were killed in a joint Fatah-Hamas suicide strike at the Erez border terminal in the northern Gaza Strip. The suicide bomber was identified as Rim Riyashi, a 21-year-old mother of two from Gaza City and recruited by Fatah.

Family members of the dead woman worked in the industrial zone at Erez and were suspected of providing Ms. Riyashi with information on Israeli procedures at the terminal, the Palestinian security source said. The source said Ms. Riyashi's unemployed 24-year-old husband, Zubad, was known as a Hamas supporter.

"It was always my wish to turn my body into deadly shrapnel against the Zionists and to knock on the doors of heaven with the skulls of Zionists," Ms. Riyashi, holding an assault rifle, said in a video taken before her mission. "That is the only wish I can ask God for."

Israeli officials said Ms. Riyashi arrived at the Erez terminal and was directed to walk through the metal detector. The machine went off, and Israeli personnel denied her entry to Israel. Minutes later, however, Ms. Riyashi returned with a group of laborers.

"She came as part of a group of Palestinians who sought work in Israel," Brig.Gen. Gadi Shamni, head of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, said. "The terrorist succeeded in deceiving soldiers by telling them while she was being checked that she had a metal splinter. As the soldiers were preparing to check her, she advanced two or three meters in the hall and blew herself up."

Officials said Israeli authorities would impose new security regulations that would affect the flow of Palestinian laborers into Israel. On Thursday, Israeli authorities banned Palestinian laborers from entering the Jewish state. About 4,000 Palestinians move through Erez daily on their way to jobs in Israel and before the attack Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz had pledged to consider lifting restrictions on their entry.

Hamas said this was the first time the group employed a female suicide bomber. Permission for the use of a woman was provided by Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin. Fatah and the Iranian-sponsored Islamic Jihad have long used women suicide bombers.

The use of women suicide bombers has been criticized by many Palestinians as exploitative. Palestinian sources said Fatah often blackmails women, particularly those who are unmarried, disabled or come from lower-income families, into agreeing to kill themselves as part of attacks on Israelis. They said Ms.Riyashi's family had left their husband's home after a bitter quarrel in November.

The PA media appeared to welcome the suicide strike. Reports on Palestinian radio termed Ms. Riyashi a martyr and blamed Israel for the attack.

"Citizen Rim Al Riyashi was heroically martyred when she carried out an explosive operation at the Beit Hanoun junction, killing four soldiers of the occupation," the PA Voice of Palestine radio said in a news bulletin hours after the attack.

Israel has braced for an increase in insurgency attacks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the next few weeks, including another suicide bombing at a Gaza Strip terminal administered by Israel. On Thursday, Palestinian insurgents tried to blow up an Israeli military position near the Israeli community of Kfar Darom in the eastern Gaza Strip.

Officials said Palestinian groups would seek to follow the model of Sunni insurgents in Iraq, who have carried out anti-aircraft attacks and car bombings against U.S. and coalition troops. A key aim of Palestinian groups, officials said, is the downing of Israeli military helicopters that fly missions over PA-controlled territories. On Wednesday, the Israeli daily Haaretz said the Israel Air Force has curtailed air missions over the West Bank and Gaza Strip to avoid insurgency attacks.

In late 2002, an Israeli military helicopter was struck and damaged by light weapons fire near the West Bank city of Tulkarm. The helicopter landed safely and nobody was injured.

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