Al Qaida in Gaza: Quietly, the PA Moves Against Suspected Cell

Amid pressure from the United States and the European Union, the Palestinian Authority is quietly moving to stop Al Qaida recruitment in the Gaza Strip. Israeli intelligence discovered the recruitment and relayed the information to the United States. At first, the PA denied the Israeli assertion and accused the Mossad of planting bogus Al Qaida insurgents to embarrass Yasser Arafat. But soon PA security services began to increase the monitoring of foreigners suspected of being linked to Al Qaida.

On December 8, Palestinian dailies extensive news coverage of a December 7 news conference given by PA International Cooperation Minister Nabil Shaath and PA Preventive Security Apparatus chief Rashid Abu Shback.

The Al Quds daily headlined its page one article: “President Arafat: Israeli Accusations of Al Qaida Presence Is a ‘Very Big Lie.'” The PA-owned Al Ayyam asserted that the “Preventive Security Apparatus uncovers Israeli Attempt to Recruit People in the name of Al Qaida in Gaza.” The articles reported Abu Shback and Shaath as saying that Israeli intelligence officers, claiming to be Al Qaida operatives, tried to recruit Palestinian citizens. Shaath told foreign diplomats and consuls that Israel was trying to delegitimize Palestinian resistance against the occupation by linking it to the Al Qaida attacks on the United States on September 11.

For his part, Abu Shback said Israeli intelligence officers claiming to be Al Qaida operatives approached Palestinians throughout the Gaza Strip. The intelligence chief said he knew of at least eight Israeli approaches.

At the same time, PA officials reported capturing a Palestinian ring that was trying to recruit for Al Qaida. The officials said they were working for Israel. PA officials did not disclose the number of arrests or the identities of the suspects.

The London-based Al Hayat daily reported on December 10 that the PA has agreed to meet with U.S. intelligence officials and diplomats this week to discuss Israel’s charges regarding Al Qaida’s presence in the Gaza Strip. The Saudi-owned newspaper, quoting senior Palestinian sources, said PA intelligence has ordered an intensive monitoring effort against Arabs and other foreigners in the Gaza Strip in an attempt to gather evidence to dismiss the Israeli accusation. The newspaper said PA Preventive Security discussed the alleged Al Qaida presence in the Gaza Strip in August and PA intelligence officials charged Israel with fabricating the issue.

Al Hayat reported that Preventive Security also briefed British and French intelligence agencies regarding the alleged Al Qaida presence. PA officials said both Israel’s domestic and foreign intelligence agencies are involved in what they termed the Al Qaida fabrication. Preventive Security met separately with U.S., British and French agencies on December 7 in Gaza City.

Regardless, the PA-owned media have been continually discussing the prospect of Al Qaida cells in Palestinian-controlled areas of the Gaza Strip. They have raised the issue whether this will serve as an Israeli pretext to attack the Gaza Strip. As Al Ayyam put it on a front-page article on December 8, “The Al Qaida Episode: Is This the Prelude to an Invasion of Gaza?”

PA Media and Suicide Bombings

The Palestinian Authority has told the United States and the European Union that the regime of Yasser Arafat is opposed to suicide bombings. But PA-owned newspapers, radio and television continue to encourage suicide bombers and glorify their deeds. The most recent example was in a PA television interview on December 5.

The television interview was with a mother whose two sons blew themselves up in terrorist attacks against Israel. The mother said she went on a pilgrimage to the Saudi city of Mecca, where she prayed that her son would die in a battle against Israel. She said she prayed that Israel would suffer from Palestinian attacks.

“I have one wish for all Israeli mothers, for all Israelis,” the mother said. “They should not relax, they should not sleep peacefully, they should always have nightmares, night and day, wherever they go, and whatever they do. No Israeli of any kind should live in comfort. Even in their sleep, they should have nightmares. We will blow them up day and night, wherever they go. If I see an Israeli I will blow up among them.”

“They should dream of how the Palestinian people kill them, and blow them up,” the mother continued. “They should not be relaxed, and should not sleep. Not them and not there sons, not their children, nor the Israeli army. They should not be able to travel on the buses, nor drive a tank, nor even ride a bike. Wherever they turn, the Israelis should see [someone] and say: “Maybe it’s a Palestinian.”

“This Jerusalem is our Jerusalem, and not yours. We are the children of Palestine, the Muslim nation, you will not live in comfort: not an Israeli’s mother, nor a soldier’s mother, nor a soldier’s grandfather, nor a soldier’s father. No Israeli of any kind should live in comfort. Even in their sleep, they will have nightmares. We will blow them up day and night, wherever they go. And I, as the mother of two Shahids, if I see an Israeli I will blow up among them.”

At this point, the presenter congratulated the mother and her dead sons. “We are, of course, always very proud of all of our martyrs,” the PA television presenter said.

PA Media Sets Religious Framework for Jihad

The PA used the fast month of Ramadan to encourage the recruitment of Palestinians for suicide attacks against Israel. PA television and radio carried programs, the theme of which was that Islam wants its followers to sacrifice themselves in the mission to kill Jews. These messages have been transmitted through interviews and talk shows.

But the message appears most prominent during sermons by Islamic clerics broadcast by Palestinian television. There, Jews are called an accursed nation and relatives of monkeys and pigs, anathema in Islamic society.

A sermon given by Mustafa Najem on December 6 urges Palestinians to fulfill Allah’s mission and kill Jews. Najem, entitled a doctor, quoted passages from the Koran to demonstrate that Islam requires its followers to “torment” Jews until the resurrection.

“Praise be to Allah, who has cursed [the Jews], the brothers of monkeys and pigs, with a stream of curses that will continue until the resurrection of the dead,” Najem said in his sermon. “He has warned us against their evil and their arrogance, and has said: ‘You will find that the most brazen among mankind, with hatred towards the believers, are the Jews and the idolaters.'”

Najem calls Jews “idolaters, heretics, whose faith is false.” He said the Jews are waging a war against Islam and seek to subjugate Muslims and ruled out any reconciliation with the Jewish state.

“Allah said against the Jews and the idolaters ‘Your lord has declared that he will surely send against them [Jews] until resurrection, those [Arabs and Muslims] who will afflict them with terrible torment,'” Najem said. “Prayer and blessing to the imam of the Jihad fighters, Mohammed, who waged a Jihad against the Jews, and a significant Jihad. He warned us, in strongest terms, against them. He said, after he expelled them from Arabia, ‘Two religions will not be here together.'”

PA Documents

The PA has refused to acknowledge its own documents. Most of the PA media either ignored the publication of Israeli-captured PA documents that discussed terrorist activities and the manufacture of weapons. Some newspapers termed the documents as forgeries prepared by Israel. But the media have not reported the details of the PA documents.

The exception was a report in much of the Palestinian media on December 14 on a Hamas rally during the previous day in Khan Yunis and other areas of the Gaza Strip. The occasion was 15th anniversary of the founding of Hamas.

At the rally, Hamas displayed a range of weapons during a march in a stadium in the central Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis. The weapons included mortar launchers and anti-tank missiles. The missiles were identified as the Al Bana, a new weapon that has been launched against Israeli tanks, armored personnel carriers and armored buses.

There was no sign of the Kassam short-range missile at the parade. Hamas has completed three models of the Kassam.

The Kassam-1 is said to have a range of 4.5 kilometers. The Kassam-2 has a range of 6 kilometers and the advanced -3 model a range of 10 kilometers.

“We will not lay down their weapons and will not stop firing their bullets until the end of this battle,” Hamas leader Ahmed Nimer Hamdan said.

PA documents captured by Israel cite names, orders, figures and intrusive details of the PA war machine. One document found in the offices of the Preventive Security Apparatus in Tel Hawa, captured in a raid in November, disclosed a strategic project to produce nitric acid, a key element in the assembly of bombs. The document also discussed constructing a factory that would produce 400-450 mortar bombs a month.

Hamas, according to the document and interrogation of a PA security official, received mortars, bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons from the Preventive Security Apparatus, General Intelligence Service and Force 17. Over the last two years, the documents and interrogations asserted, hundreds of mortars, bombs, rockets and weapons were produced by the PA and distributed to a range of terrorist groups.

Threat of Abduction

Hamas has threatened to abduct Israeli soldiers and use them as a bargaining chip for the release of Palestinian terrorists held by Israel. A lead article on Hamas’s web site [] said it plans to renew the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, begun in the early 1990s. Hamas, in an appeal made on December 8, urged other Palestinian groups to do everything within their power to free Palestinians imprisoned in the maximum-security Ashkelon prison.

Several months ago, Hamas distributed to its members an instruction manual on abducting soldiers and holding them for ransom.

The Egyptian Factor

Egypt is said to have pressed Islamic Jihad for a recess in suicide attacks against Israel.

The London-based Al Hayat said on December 15 that Egyptian officials succeeded in obtaining a commitment from the Iranian-backed Jihad for a respite in suicide missions during Palestinian reconciliation talks last week in Cairo. The talks included representatives from the ruling Fatah movement and the opposition Hamas regarding the Palestinian war against Israel.

Jihad has claimed responsibility for a series of suicide missions in November in northern Israel as well as the killing of 12 Israelis in Hebron in December. The organization is said to have been bolstered over the last few months with funding from Iran and cooperation from the Lebanese-based Hizbullah.

Egypt has pressed Fatah and Hamas to agree to a ceasefire on suicide missions in Israel during the election campaign. The Palestinian insurgency groups were told by Egypt and the European Union, which sponsored the Fatah-Hamas talks, that attacks on civilian targets in Israel would strengthen the reelection prospects of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Al Hayat reported that a Jihad delegation, which did not include leader Ramadan Shalah, had requested to be included in the Fatah-Hamas talks. The newspaper said Egypt pledged to examine the request.

Fatah and Hamas met on December 10 and December 11 at a secret location in the Cairo area. The meeting site was secured by Egyptian security officers and contents of the session were not disclosed.

The intentions of Fatah do not seem to be in line with any ceasefire effort. A statement by the Fatah-dominated Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades on December 11 called for a resumption of suicide attacks, termed martyr operations. Fatah pledged to head the Palestinian war against Israel in a joint effort with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Earlier, PA International Cooperation Minister Nabil Shaath told the Al Ayyam daily on December 9 that Fatah and Hamas seek to reach an agreement on a ceasefire. But Shaath said no such accord would go into effect unless Israel ends its attacks.

Sha’ath said other issues on the Fatah-Hamas agenda include the adoption of a strategy regarding Palestinian statehood and the question of Palestinian refugees.

Hamas Speaks

On November 24, Hamas leader Abdul Aziz Rentisi, a member of the Hamas leadership, said suicide missions would not end. He said the goal is to topple the regime of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon the way Hamas succeeded in doing against predecessors Ehud Barak, Binyamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres. In an interview with the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat daily, Rentisi said:

“Martyrdom missions will not strengthen the Sharon’s victory for this is impossible if it comes amid the election slogan of Israeli security as they had promised. We will now topple [the regime] by activing martyrdom operations.”

Rentisi said there is no difference between the ruling Likud and the opposition Labor Party. He said most of the killings of Palestinians took place during Labor Party rule. He said more than 80 percent of the Jewish settlements were built by Labor.

Regarding the recent Hamas suicide attack in Jerusalem in which 11 people were killed, Rentisi said, “We always tell our Palestinian people the truth and we don’t fear anything. We told the facts after the Cairo meeting and we said there was no agreement to end martyr operations — not for a month and not for three months and not even for three seconds. This operation was a natural response to the crimes of the Israeli occupation that are committed against the Palestinian people.”

Rentisi also tried to take credit for the Jihad operation in December in which 12 Israelis, most of them soldiers, were killed. He said the operation was planned by Hamas and Jihad later joined the operation. “We are not diminishing their role,” Rentisi said. “At the same time, we won’t diminish our own role. We launched the attack and after a quarter of an hour the Jihad group entered the battle and were martyred. These are the facts.”