- The Washington Times - Monday, April 19, 2004

LONDON — Top Palestinian militants acknowledge that the militant organization Hamas is hard-pressed to follow through on its threats to wreak havoc inside Israel in response to the successive killings of its two top leaders.

“Hamas might have a crisis on its hands after losing its leaders,” said senior Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh at the funeral on Sunday for Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the Hamas leader killed in the Gaza Strip on Saturday.

The successive assassinations by Israel of Mr. Rantisi and Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin appear to have aggravated problems already suffered by would-be terror cells on the ground.

A leader of the underground Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade recently was quoted as saying Hamas and Al Aqsa were seriously hurt by the killings of key combatants, especially their bomb-makers.

Enhanced security measures, meanwhile, have made it much more difficult to penetrate Israel, the unnamed Al Aqsa leader told Iran’s state-controlled news agency.



“The Islamic and Arab world … expected the Palestinian Fatah and Hamas resistance movement combatants to take revenge for the bloodshed of martyr Sheikh Ahmed Yassin immediately,” he told the agency. “But [they] are unaware of the limitations and [the] amount of pressure imposed against the Palestinian combatants.”

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is under Fatah command and swears allegiance to Yasser Arafat, but contains members of Hamas, and the two groups have often jointly taken responsibility for terror operations.

The unnamed Al Aqsa leader was quoted as saying that in the past month or so, Israel had killed “a unique Al Aqsa explosives expert, Ahmad Bade,” along with “one of the most prominent activists of Hamas, Ali Allamah,” and a Hamas military commander, Mahmoud abu-Audah.

Several other key Hamas operatives have been captured inside Israel, he added.

Due to the difficulties of getting into Israel, he told the agency, the only realistic short-term option was to attack Israeli targets within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

A leading Arab expert on Palestinian militant movements said in an interview that Hamas also might be deterred by the fear that a large-scale attack inside Israel would provoke Israel to kill Mr. Arafat — whom Hamas now sees as its main protector.

“It is mainly because of Arafat that Hamas is left unharmed by the Palestinian Authority’s security services,” said Nabil Khatib, a lecturer at the leading Palestinian university, Bir Zeit, who is in close contact with the Palestinian factions.

He said Mahmoud Abbas, who briefly served as Palestinian prime minister until he was fired by Mr. Arafat last year, had wanted to crack down on Hamas — as had the former security chief in the Gaza Strip, Mohamed Dahlan.

“But Arafat, who still dominates the security decisions, refused,” Mr. Khatib said. “Arafat is still against any action by the Palestinian Authority’s security services against Hamas, because he doesn’t want to do it while Israel gives no political price.”

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