Leaderless Hamas squabbles over tactics in Gaza
The dynamic of an IDF operation in northern Gaza is well known. The army goes in with armor to the areas where Qassams are launched and uproots trees, demolishes houses, and causes casualties.
At the height of the IDF operation in northern Gaza this week that has so far cost the lives of more than 60 Palestinians - including civilians - and caused enormous damage to the eastern part of Jabalya refugee camp, Jabalya Sheikh Nazar Rian went into the streets of the camp carrying weapons.
Rian is a senior Hamas official who up until Saturday was in charge of a major portion of the organization's welfare projects. He had been one of the high profile associates of assassinated Abdul Aziz Rantisi, and was often presented as one of the senior officials in the political wing of the movement.
He was carrying a Kalashnikov and some rocket propelled grenades this week, something members of the political wing never do, announcing to everyone he saw - and everyone knows who he is - that he had decided to join the camp fighters and was even volunteering to head what is now being called "the Operation to Expel the Enemy from Jabalya."
Rian's appearance as an armed man on the street was extraordinary, and as much as it was meant to send a message of encouragement to the armed men from Hamas, who are bearing the brunt of resisting the IDF at the edges of the camp, it was meant to emphasize how the hawkish political wing of Hamas shares the views of the armed men and Hamas outside Gaza.
Those are pushing the organization to escalate the operations against the army and the settlers and continue the Qassam rocket firings into the Negev. His unusual appearance was also meant to send that message to the Palestinian Authority, despite the enormous damage being done to the residents of the camp, and to the cities of Beit Lahia and Beit Hanun.
Sources in the camp say 15 buildings have been destroyed completely and another 100 damaged in various ways. Merchants and other businessmen in the camp are complaining of the damage done to them and the local economy.
They have turned to the PA with the demand that the Qassam launches be stopped and that the PA reach an understanding with the army to put an end to the operation that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised yesterday to expand.
The dynamic of an IDF operation in northern Gaza is well known. The army goes in with armor to the areas where Qassams are launched and uproots trees, demolishes houses, and causes casualties. That turns leads to pressure from the population on the PA, the Hamas and other organizations to halt the Qassams - until the next round.
Hamas official Ismail Haniye was already hearing the businessmen's complaints on Friday so on Saturday he announced the organization was ready to stop the Qassam firings from Gaza. "Our people will stop using their missiles to defend themselves if the occupation ceases its invasions and aggression. The enemy uses the disgraceful silence of the Arab states and the European silence, to conspire in the shadow of the silence of international institutions. None of them have launched a single request to the enemy to cease its ongoing war of destruction."
Haniye holds the same views as Mahmoud A Zahar, generally considered the most senior of the Hamas officials in Gaza, but in a provocative demonstration of force, four officers from the armed wing of the organization in Jabalya called a press conference on Saturday in Rian's mosque. They emphasized they were preparing more surprises - including increasing the range of their rockets to reach Ashkelon.
The four who called the press conference among the worshipers in the mosque showed off various weapons and handed out an information sheet in which they bragged about their operations since the army rolled in. "There are 15 dead from the armed wing, three sacrificial operations, 7 dead Zionists, seven bombs and 18 rockets fired at tanks and bulldozers, and more."
The press conference was quickly dispersed when the sound of an unmanned plane was heard overhead, but the activists who called the meeting had a totally different line than Haniye. Hamas Internet sites in Gaza and the rest of the world quoted the four. Haniye was not even mentioned.
Contradictions and disputes inside the organizations have been an open secret for some time. Ever since Rantisi and Yassin were assassinated, the military wing, headed by Mohammed Def, and backed by Rian and Sheikh Said a-Siam, another Rantisi protege, only listen to the foreign leadership of the organization, meaning Khaled Mashal and Imad Alalami. They ignore a-Zahar and Haniye.
Other spokesmen, like Sammi Abu Zuheiri, and Mushir al Masri, also Rantisi proteges, issue denials of Haniye statements, without naming Haniye. "There is no need to look for explanations for the offensive operations in Jabalya like the Qassam fire - the murder of [Palestinian] civilians began before the Qassams," says al Masri.
Hamas sources close to Haniye and A Zahar confirmed yesterday that there are harsh differences between various parts of the organization regarding the proper tactics and strategies to adopt in Gaza. One said "the Hamas cannot hold both ends of the rope for very long, on the one hand talking to the PA and Egypt about a cease-fire and taking part in Palestinian elections, and with the other methods for military escalation."
But people from the other side of the internal Hamas debate say that holding the rope at both ends is the only way the organization now has and as far as they are concerned, they are building support for the Hamas in the Palestinian street. One said "even if the Hamas stops firing missiles and operations stop in Gaza, it will still come out of the current crisis as the determining factor in Jabalya," The refugee camp is home to around 100,000 people.