- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank Dozens of Palestinian women have begun volunteering for military operations against Israel after the first female Palestinian "martyr" of the intifada, or uprising, blew herself up in Jerusalem last week.
Wafa'a Idris, 28, a Palestinian medical assistant, killed an Israeli pensioner and wounded more than 100 others last Sunday when she detonated a bomb she was carrying in one of Jerusalem's busiest streets.
Radical Palestinian Islamist groups have since reported a surge of requests from other women keen to take part in military operations against Israel.
Until last week, Palestinian women had played only supporting roles in military and terrorist operations, though the Koran explicitly states that jihad, or holy war, can be carried out by women as well as men.
Last week's suicide bombing appears to have ended a social taboo, and even the most conservative Islamist groups have come to appreciate the propaganda benefits of female recruits.
Idris' attack was carried out in the name of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a group affiliated with Yasser Arafat's moderate Fatah faction.
At her local Fatah headquarters, an official said: "There is no doubt that this is a turning point. It has given women a burst of enthusiasm to join the fight, and many are now volunteering to carry out attacks."
[The spiritual leader of the Islamic Hamas militant group, Sheik Ahmad Yassin, told a London-based Arab-language newspaper that "in this phase (of the uprising), the participation of women is not needed in martyr operations, like men," Agence France-Presse reported.
["We can't meet the growing demands of young men who wish to carry out martyr operation," the blind and ailing 65-year-old Muslim cleric told the Asharq al-Awsat daily yesterday.
[However, he added that once the current 16-month-old uprising enters its "decisive phase, everyone will participate without exception," and that "women form the second line of defense in the resistance to the occupation."
[Sheik Yassin added that if a Hamas woman wanted to carry out an attack she "must be accompanied by a man," such as a relative under Islamic precepts, "if the operation requires an absence of more than a day and a night."
[Another Hamas leader, Sheik Hassan Yusef, told Agence France-Presse on Monday that "the Prophet Mohammed always defended women's right to jihad."]
According to the Koran, on Judgment Day, a shahid, or martyr, of either sex will face no reckoning and will be guided into Paradise by a beautiful nymph. Some Muslim clerics also preach that a martyr will be looked after by 72 houris, the beautiful virgins of Paradise. The promised bliss has no sexual connotations, many clerics say.
Women who put themselves forward to become martyrs say they would be content with being in Paradise and expect no specific rewards.
The changed mood has caused chaos at military and police checkpoints. Women have rarely, if ever, been searched in the past. But at Kalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, soldiers have been attempting to cope with the new threat.

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