Text size

A cease-fire, by its very nature, is a creature of mistrust. If either side's confidence in the other was more than tissue-thin, a more concrete, much more credible peace accord might have been concluded in its place.

It therefore came as some shock but little surprise, when the man Ariel Sharon dispatched to Washington last week to reassure the administration that Israel and the Palestinians had taken steps toward lessening of tensions, broke sharply from Jerusalem's official expressions of praise for the other side.

"A cease-fire is a ticking bomb which will blow up in our faces," Foreign Silvan Shalom told a national radio audience.

Unless disarmed and broken up, terrorist organizations are likely to exploit the truce to rebuild their ranks, Shalom said. "Then, at a point in time of their choosing, they can mount a terror attack, perhaps a series of them, which will send this process down to hell."

In the past, Sharon governments have been taken to task for repeatedly green-lighting IDF and Shin Bet assassination operations just when calm seemed to have returned to the territories and diplomatic prospects had show signs of ripening ; that is, just when militant commanders on Israel's most-wanted list were most likely to emerge from hiding and come up for air.

This time, Israel has given repeated signs of having ratcheted down "initiated" moves, and may, in fact, resist the siren song of a terror warlord caught in the open.

The proof, Palestinians have said on a daily basis, will come in Israel's actions. An end to assassinations is at the core of Hamas and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades demands as part of a comprehensive - if time-limited - mutual cease-fire.

At the same time, an array of shadowy organizations, smaller in number and, at times, more extreme in practice than Hamas and the Al Aqsa Brigades, may prove the crucial variable in the truce equation.

If, indeed, an order is issued to kill the truce - and if it is to be a Palestinian who pulls the trigger - the instructions could come from abroad. Tehran, Beirut and Damascus are the most likely sources of such an order.

Iran has been the main support of a number of groups dedicated to the erasure of the Jewish state. Tehran is believed keen to scuttle chances for a truce, which could mean a return to negotiations toward a two-state solution, and thus Arab and wider Muslim recognition of Israel.

In recent years, Hezbollah, Iran's client militia in south Lebanon, has taken a leading role in spurring and facilitating terror attacks stemming from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The following is the final installment of a series of profiles of Palestinian militant groups. It is, as well, a list of organizations whose actions - and arms - could determine the fate of war or peace in the Holy Land.

POPULAR RESISTANCE COMMITTEES

Armed wing: SALAH A-DIN BRIGADES

Founded: September, 2000, at the outset of the Intifada, by Jamal Abu Samhadana, who broke away from the Fatah Tanzim militia after serving as its commander in Rafah, southern Gaza.

Forces under arms: Believed to be several dozen. Samadana, who has narrowly escaped a number of Israeli assassination attempts, filled the PRC's ranks with ex-members of many armed groups, including Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Fatah Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, PFLP, and PA forces including the Palestinian Preventative Security, originally set up to head off terror attacks against Israelis.

Operations: The PRC spearheaded many of the most dramatic and bombings, shellings, and other deadly attacks of the Intifada. PRC cells were among the first to attack Israeli civilians, killing two people and maiming several children when they set off a bomb beside a school bus near a Gaza settlement.

They were also among the first to employ shelling as a means of attacking Israeli civilians in Gaza, jolting settlements with mortars beginning early in 2001.

In an attack that recalled Hezbollah operations in south Lebanon, PRC men buried huge roadside explosive charges and blew up IDF Markava main battle tanks, killing seven soldiers in three attacks in 2002.

The PRC is also believed to have carried out the October, 2003 bombing of a U.S. diplomatic convoy near Beit Hanun in the northern Strip. The attack killed three security men accompanying a U.S. cultural attache.

It is also believed to have carried out the 2004 shooting ambush in Gaza on the day Likud members voted in a nationwide referendum over disengagement. In the attack, gunmen opened fire on a car driven by Gaza settler Tali Hatuel. The pregnant Hatuel was killed, along with her four children.

Hudna: In June, 2003, a number of militant wings agreed to a hudna brokered by then-PA prime minister Mahmoud Abbas. The PRC split over the issue. One wing, the PRC General Command, signaled general agreement with the hudna. The second, called the Jenin Brigades, rejected the hudna, but did not stage high-profile attacks.

The truce was to last two months. The end came in the wake of terror attacks by three parties to the truce, the Fatah Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

On August 19, on the eve of a planned hand-over of West Bank cities to Palestinian control, a suicide bombing claimed by Hamas and the Jihad struck a bus in Jerusalem filled with riders returning from a Bar Mitzvah. The attack left 23 dead, many of them children, and more than 130 people wounded.

The cease-fire formally collapsed 48 hours later, when copter-fired Israeli missiles killed the third most powerful leader in the Hamas hierarchy, Ismail Abu Shanab, who had been the first prominent voice in Hamas to speak of a two-state solution.

_______________________

PALESTINIAN ISLAMIC JIHAD

Armed wing: JERUSALEM BATTALIONS

Founded: 1979. Drew its strength from the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood, but its inspiration from the Khomeni-led Iranian revolution of that year. Islamic Jihad's close tie to Iran stood in contrast to the more independent Hamas, another outgrowth of the Brotherhood.

Jihad carried out several suicide bombings beginning with a 1995 attack at Beit Lid junction, in which 21 soldiers were killed. Jihad bombings increased in frequency during the Intifada.

Hudna: the Jihad joined the brief hudna in 2003. In October , two months after the hudna had been declared over, the Jihad sent a woman suicide bomber to attack the seaside Maxim Restaurant in Haifa. A total of 21 Israeli civilians, a number of them Arabs, were killed in the explosion.

Forces under arms: Current estimates are in the low hundreds.

The armed wing, the Al Quds or Jerusalem Brigades, signals ties with Hezbollah in its symbol, which closely resembles that of the Lebanese group.

_________________________

POPULAR FRONT FOR THE LIBERATION OF PALESTINE

Armed wing: SHAHID ABU ALI MUSTAFA BATTALIONS

Founded: December, 1967, by physician and Marxist-Leninist George Habash and Wadi Hadad, who was soon to pioneer terror attacks which captured the world stage, in particular jetliner hijackings. The hijackings sparked a decision by Jordan's King Hussein to crush PLO-affiliated groups and drive them from the kingdom, in the "Black September" of 1970.

Within the territories, then-overall IDF Gaza commander Ariel Sharon focused IDF commando operations against the secular Fatah, the PFLP and its Marxist ally/rival Democratic Front. In succeeding years, PFLP influence declined as Israeli military administrators in Gaza fostered Islamic groups as a hoped-for counterweight to the secular revolutionary groups.

Command: The Damascus-based Habash, who broke with the PLO over the 1993 Oslo Accords, which the PFLP utterly opposed, resigned as chief of the organization four months before the Intifada erupted in 2000. His protege then took over, the pro-Syrian Mustafa Zabri, known as Abu Ali Mustafa, born in a village near Jenin.

In August, 2001, an Israeli helicopter missile strike killed Zabri in the office of his Ramallah headquarters. Ahmed Sa'adat then assumed command, ordering the October retaliation assassination of far-right Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi.

Taking refuge in Arafat's Muqata compound, Sa'adat, his military-wing commander, and two gunmen believed to have killed Ze'evi were transferred to U.S. and U.K.-supervised custody in a form of imprisonment in PA-ruled Jericho. An elite IDF unit later killed Sa'adat's younger brother in Ramallah, and the group has sworn revenge.

Ahmed Sa'adat is believed to have retained operational control of the group.

Forces under arms: Current estimates in the dozens.

Hudna: PFLP refused to participate in the brief 2003 cease-fire.