- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2006

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Gunmen from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant Palestinian group known for its suicide attacks on Israel, say they envy Hezbollah even as they despair of their own inability to defeat Israeli forces.

“Even though we feel our capabilities are depleted, any chance at striking back we’ll take. We have men that will eat stones,” said Abu Ameed, who used a nickname for fear of arrest by the Israeli military.

“And if our generation feels a little demoralized, the next generations will not stop.”

Mr. Ameed was part of a group of gunmen who spoke with a reporter in a grungy courtyard parking lot in Ramallah. Their disappointment was obvious. The Israeli military can reach them at will, and leaders of their own Fatah party want them to lay down their weapons.

But after Hezbollah held firm against an Israeli invasion for 34 days until an Aug. 14 cease-fire, the Palestinian gunmen say they have hope.

Israeli officials and analysts have expressed concern that Palestinian militants will try to replicate Hezbollah’s tactics and “Lebanonize” areas such as the Gaza Strip by smuggling advanced weapons and building bunkers.

The militants, who wore black shirts, said they are trying to learn the lessons of Hezbollah’s success, which they attributed partly to the militia’s cohesion and discipline.

“In Lebanon the resistance is united,” Mr. Ameed said. “But here everyone started to look out for themselves.”

Members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade are hunted men. Earlier this week, a gunmen was killed in the streets of Ramallah by Israeli agents.

“We are feeling sorry for ourselves, but in spite of that we are on a moral high,” said Mr. Ameed, who wears a belt with a pistol in a holster. “We cheer Nasrallah,” he said, referring to Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.

Although Hezbollah’s rising prominence in the Middle East has disturbed moderate Arab regimes about the unprecedented influence of Shi’ite Muslim fundamentalists, the Aqsa gunmen said they aren’t bothered by the encroachment of a group that is both Islamist and from a different sect.

“We are all Muslims,” said a gunmen who called himself Abu Firas. Most Palestinians are Sunnis.

By sending Israelis into bomb shelters and embroiling soldiers in bloody urban warfare, despite the mismatched militaries, Sheik Nasrallah is viewed as military leader made of different mettle from the leaders of Arab regimes.

“Our faith in monarchs and presidents was shaky from the beginning,” Mr. Firas said.

Although other leaders advocate negotiations, Hezbollah has succeeded by rejecting peace agreements with Israel, the gunmen said.

“Signed agreements between the political leaders and Israel have not been respected, so we believe in the ideology of Hezbollah, which rejects signed agreements,” Mr. Firas said.

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