In the Name of Islam?

The Gaza Strip is going in the direction of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon where the Muslim extremists have situated themselves: there is no government presence and no law and order.

The bloody incidents in the Nahr al-Barad refugee camp in Lebanon have implications for the Palestinians, and therefore, Israel as well. A bank in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli was robbed three weeks ago. The robbers fled to the nearby Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Barad, barricading themselves in a house. The police pursued them and the incident spiraled into heavy exchanges of fire, which ended in numerous casualties and massive destruction. Some inhabitants fled the camp.

The robbers were members of an extremist Muslim group, Fatah al-Islam (Victory of Islam), which is linked to Al-Qaida and other such organizations operating in Lebanon. Though the group is headed by a Palestinian, Shaker al-Absi, most of its 300-500 members are from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Algeria, Lebanon and other Arab countries. Al-Absi was born in 1955 in a refugee camp in Jericho to a family from the village of Duweima (now Moshav Amatzia in the Lachish Region). He grew up in the Al Wahdat Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, studied in Libya and became famous when he received a pilot license. After the 1982 Lebanon War he joined the rebels in Fatah (the Abu Mussa group, which eventually became known as Fatah Intifada and was supported by the Syrian regime). In 2000, al-Absi was arrested by the Syrians and spent two years in prison on charges of attempting to carry out terror attacks from the Golan Heights. After serving time, he went to Jordan and Iraq and participated in terrorist activities. In Jordan he was sentenced, in absentia, to death for his part in the murder of American diplomat Laurence Foley in 2002, and in Iraq he operated alongside Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by the Americans in 2006.

According to a Palestinian journalist from East Jerusalem, there were a number of indications that al-Absi and his people, who had settled into the camp in Lebanon, received financial aid from Saudi elements. The idea was to develop a fanatical Sunni Muslim force in Lebanon that would effectively act as a counterweight to the Shi'ite Hezbollah zealots.

Acquaintances of the journalist in Tripoli told him that Saudi Arabia has stopped transferring funds to this group, and its members robbed the bank through which they had received the money in the past. The reaction to the bloodshed in northern Lebanon, which left in its wake 130 dead, scores wounded and heavy damage, was wall-to-wall condemnation: The government and army fought the militants; some in the government have accused Syria of helping the perpetrators in order to distract attention from efforts to establish an international court to try suspects in the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri; Hezbollah has distanced itself from them but has demanded that the army be prohibited from entering the camp. Fear is growing among the Palestinians; once again they will be blamed for all of the troubles in Lebanon.

Hamas spokesmen have hastened to declare that they have no connection to al-Absi and his supporters. A Hamas representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, has condemned them, and Khaled Meshal called Prime Minister Fouad Siniora from Damascus and offered to help. The Palestine Liberation Organization representative in Lebanon, Abbas Zaki (formerly a member of the Palestinian parliament), also came out against the terrorists.

Nevertheless, it emerged last week that the group is holding up, and all because of the weak and divided Lebanese government. It is not a coincidence that the Muslim extremists have situated themselves in this refugee camp and in other camps in Lebanon where there is no government presence and no law and order.

This is precisely the direction the Gaza Strip is taking. Abandonment by the government, lawlessness and poverty are fertile ground for the organizing of terrorists. In Gaza, similar groups ostensibly operating in the name of Islam have already been spotted. In this context it is perhaps worth reconsidering the boycott of the Palestinian unity government in which Hamas is a partner. The boycott is increasing the bitterness and distress, weighing down on Hamas and encouraging the development of organizations along the lines of Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon. It is not only the Palestinians who will pay the price for this, but also Israel, which did not want Hamas and is getting Al-Qaida. This appears to be the opinion of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said at the end of last week that Hamas is sending positive signals concerning peace, and hinted that these should be answered.