Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Killers hiding behind women and children

Hamas Stakes Its Identity on Resistance to Israel Gaza Strikes

Jan. 14 -- Ismail Haniya, Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip, said Gaza “will not falter” when he appeared on television -- from a hiding place because Israeli war planes had bombed his office.

His determination, even as he left open the door for a negotiated end to the fighting, at a time when almost 1,000 Palestinians have died under Israeli attack is part and parcel of Hamas’s self-declared reason for being: maintaining an armed struggle against a country whose existence it refuses to accept.

“Without resistance, Hamas would have no identity,” said Khalid Amayreh, a political commentator and analyst in the West Bank city of Hebron. “It must maintain its principles of fighting Israel at all costs.”

Haniya’s call on Jan. 12 for an immediate cease-fire, unconditional Israeli military withdrawal and the unfettered opening of Gaza’s borders fell short of Egyptian-government mediators’ proposals that Hamas stop firing rockets into Israel and permit international monitoring of Gaza’s border with Egypt to end arms smuggling.

Still, there was a change in tone. In addition to the “track of resistance,” Haniya said Hamas was also working on “the political track.”

And the No. 2 Hamas figure in Damascus, Mussa Abu Marzuk, earlier this week sounded more open to the Egyptian cease-fire plan, telling Al-Jazeera television that there was “still a chance” his group would accept it. Hamas negotiators spent yesterday in talks in Cairo, after a day of consultation in Damascus.

Medical personnel in Gaza put the Palestinian death toll at 919, while 13 Israelis have died since fighting began Dec. 27.

Suicide Bombings

Hamas, branded a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union, was attacking Israel long before this war. In the mid-1990s, it spearheaded suicide bombings inside Israel. It was a period when that country was ceding control of the West Bank cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Qalqilya, Jenin, Tulkarm, Bethlehem and Hebron to the Palestinian National Authority, then led by Yasser Arafat.

These concessions did nothing to alter Hamas’s anti-Israeli stand. In its view, the Palestinian territory that Israel illegally occupies includes not only the West Bank and Gaza, conquered by Israel in 1967, but also Israel itself.

The Islamic party posits use of force as an alternative to peace talks promoted by Arafat’s successor, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“Israel is simply an illegal state,” said Nizar Ramadan, a Hamas member of the Palestine Legislative Council, or parliament, from the West Bank city of Hebron. “It is not a moral entity we can accept.”

Hamas and Fatah

Hamas’s power struggle with the Fatah Party of Abbas is a subplot of the Israeli invasion. Hamas won West Bank and Gaza parliamentary elections in 2006, pushing aside Fatah. In 2007, Abbas’ security forces -- armed by the U.S., some trained in Egypt and given passage into the Gaza Strip by Israel -- tried to oust the Hamas government from Gaza. Hamas routed Fatah.

The Israeli army sealed Gaza’s borders, periodically cutting off fuel and food supplies, while Abbas continues to rule the West Bank.

“Hamas is reaching to take the flag of the Palestinian national cause from Fatah and their battle with Israel may deliver it,” said Mohammed Naim Farhat, a sociology professor at Al-Quds Open University in Bethlehem.

On Dec. 28, a day after Israel invaded Gaza, Abbas blamed Hamas for breaking a six-month truce with the Israelis. “We were not surprised. Abbas frequently does Israel’s work for them,” said Ramadan, 48, in an interview at his Hebron office. “He kept talking with them while we starved.”

No White Flag

Israeli officials say they believe Hamas is being badly battered but remains resilient. In a Jan. 12 briefing for reporters, Israeli cabinet secretary Oved Yehezkel said the group is “unlikely to raise a white flag.”

Hamas’s world vision is informed by a moralistic view of Israel as the embodiment of evil and by its roots in the West Bank and Gaza, said sociologist Farhat.

“It was bred under occupation and was not an exiled force like Fatah,” he said, referring to the years of PLO exile that ended with Arafat’s return to the West Bank and Gaza in 1994.

“Fatah likes red carpets and visits to foreign capitals,” said commentator Amayreh. “Hamas’s horizons are limited to Palestine.”

Ramadan, the Hamas parliament member, was freed from 39 months of captivity in Israeli prison last October, during which time he was elected to the Palestinian parliament.

Rocket fire is specifically aimed at ending what Hamas calls Israel’s siege of Gaza, he said. “We don’t expect to get Haifa with rockets,” he said. “Just something to eat. Recovering all of Palestine is for future generations. Someday it will happen.”


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