Middle East & Africa
Interview with Hamas Leader
"Hamas Targets Only Israel, Not U.S."
Vows To Step Up Resistance Against Zionists
By Yasser AbuMoailek
Middle East Correspondent
Gaza City, April 4, 2004 — Meeting Hamas officials in these uneasy times was a "mission impossible," but after a series of long phone calls and calling in many personal favors, Mr. Yasser AbuMoailek, The Seoul Times Middle East correspondent, finally managed to meet one of the leaders. Here is the story.Deep down a densely-populated Gazan suburb, in one of the houses that does not look more different than the surrounding muddy alleyways and dirt tracks, there sat Ismail Haniya, bureau chief of the movement's slain founder and spiritual leader, Ahmad Yassin, or the "Sheikh," as publicly known in Gaza.Over a cup of tea and a brief chat, Haniya spoke about the formation of the Islamic Resistance Movement, known in short as Hamas (Enthusiasm) in Arabic."The Hamas movement is a Jihad (Holy War) movement in the general concept of the word, which includes also the revival of Islamic renaissance. We believe this renaissance is the key to liberating Palestine.We're also a popular movement, as we draw support from the Palestinian popular base. We consider Islam as the main basis for the movement's rules and ideologies," Haniya said briefly about Hamas.
He recalled that the first leaflet distributed by Hamas was on December 15, 1987 announcing the establishment of the movement, but he noted that the movement was there as an offshoot of the "Islamic Brotherhood" movement since the 1940s, which was formed by the Brotherhood in Palestine to express their different political stances there.Several Palestinians and Israelis argue that the Israeli intelligence services (Shin Bet) contributed in forming Hamas, to counter the increasing revolutionary stream among the supporters of the nationalist Fateh movement. The Israelis hoped, at that time, that supporters of both movements would fight among each other over popular rating.Haniya, who is known in the movement with his calm spirit and pragmatic attitudes, lashed out at these 'accusations,' asserting that the movement was established with Muslim Palestinian hands and without any foreign intervention, not to say Israeli.Shifting into more recent events, particularly the assassination of the movement's spiritual leader and founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the next question was whether the assassination of Yassin would shake the leadership structure in Hamas, and what was next."First of all, there is no absence of leadership in Hamas, as we have our own leadership and frameworks. Any leadership gaps are filled quickly. The assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin will not change the movement's general strategy, which is the continuation of resistance and the safeguard of the Palestinian unity." Haniya was clearly upset of the recently published report by the BBC, in which they mentioned that Yassin was the only person in Hamas capable of bringing the movement's pragmatics and hard-liners together. He argued that Hamas did not have such streams inside it, but rather a difference of opinions."Every movement in the world has different political streams inside it, and Hamas is no exception. We follow Islam's consultation (Shura) method, in which we take decisions through a consultations council. Sheikh Yassin was definitely a guide to the movement's members, but his absence will not affect the decision-making process inside the movement," Haniya continued.The obvious next question was the movement's strategy for the next phase, as reports revealed that Sheikh Yassin intended to propose a truce on the Israeli government in exchange for withdrawing from Gaza Strip and dismantling settlements."The priorities of Hamas and its military arm, the Ezzeddin Al Qassam Brigades, in the next phase is to step-up the resistance against the Zionist occupation, because we learnt that only resistance gives practical results."Haniya said that Hamas' attacks concentrate only on Israeli targets, dismissing the reports talking about a shift in attacks towards U.S. interests inside the Palestinian territories and the region. Haniya's bodyguard interrupted the conversation at this point, whispering some words into the ears of the Hamas senior. He then apologized for not being able to continue the interview as he must leave, giving no reasons and retaining his 'poker face' expressions.Israel considers Hamas' armed wing, the Ezzeddin Al Qassam Brigades, the most dangerous militant group in the Palestinian territories, as they have dealt major blows to the Israeli forces and many targets inside Israel. To this extent, successive Israeli governments have prioritized hunting down the Brigades' leaders and commanders.In a newly constructed building in the old part of Gaza City, I met Mujahed, as he calls himself. The masked man with plain civilian clothing was sitting on the stairwell where I had to sit and talk with him. He had the perception of a cat, turning around every once and a while. "Collaborators are, unfortunately, our worst enemy," he explained.Mujahed introduced himself as the leader of the Brigades in the northern Gaza area, an area Israel says 'Qassam' rockets are launched from on the adjacent Israeli cities and settlements.He mentioned that I was allowed only for 15 minutes because that was all he could spare, considering the volatile situation.Mujahed said the Brigades were officially formed in 1986 by Salah Shehadeh, who was killed when an Israeli jet fighter dropped a 1000-pound-bomb on his house, killing him and 23 other Palestinian civilians in July, 2002.
"The first armed wing of the movement was formed in 1986 by our leader Salah Shehadeh and a group of other fellow leaders. They operated under different names and different cells until 1989, when the Zionist forces arrested many Hamas leaders and supporters, namely the late Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. Later, the armed struggle escalated after the famous kidnapping two Zionist soldiers, which called to unifying the work of the cells under one name. After many deliberations we agreed on 'Ezzeddin Al Qassam Brigades,'and hence came the name," Mujahed narrated.Since the 1980s the Brigades have carried out hundreds of attacks on Israeli targets inside the occupied territories and Israeli cities, causing Israel to continuously hunt down its members and eliminate their leaders using any means possible.As for their relationship with the political leadership of Hamas, Mujahed remarked that the Brigades do not take orders directly from the political leaders, but they do follow the general strategy of Hamas.The Israeli forces consider the general commander of the Ezzeddin Al Qassam Brigades, Mohammed Al Deif, the most wanted Palestinian alive, and have tried to assassinate him many times in vain.
|Late Salah Shehadeh|
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Yasser AbuMoailek, a journalist and feature writer working for the International Press Center in Gaza Strip. He contributes to many circulations inlcuding the Seoul Times, as well as monitoring the situation in the Middle East, especially the Palestinian territories.