Yesterday’s events, in which members of Hamas and a group known as the Popular Resistance Committees attacked a military base in Southern Israel, killing two Israeli soldiers and kidnapping a third, represents a dangerous escalation in the conflict between Israel and the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Israeli troops tanks moved into Gaza for the first time since last summer’s withdrawal, and the government is threatening harsh reprisals against the PA if the abducted soldier is not returned alive.
It is the PRC’s first operation since its leader, Jamal Abu Samhadana — a notorious Palestinian terrorist appointed by Hamas to be in charge of building a new Palestinian army in Gaza — died in an Israeli airstrike. His elimination occurred less than 24 hours after the U.S. airstrike that killed Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq. While Samhadana had focused his energies on killing Israelis, he had American and Palestinian blood on his hands as well. As head of the PRC, Samhadana, an explosives expert, was directing the efforts of armed Palestinian gangs to target Israel from bases in Gaza.
The Israeli military says it wasnottargeting Samhadana, and that he died in an raid on a terrorist training camp in Gaza. The airstrike came in response to rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel — a near-daily feature of life since Israel completed its withdrawal from Gaza in September. Samhadana and his associates in the camp were members of the PRC. Israel claims that, at the time of its strike on the camp on June 9, Samhadana and company were training to carry out a major series of terrorist attacks inside Israel.
More recently, the PRC formed a strategic alliance with Hamas, and instructed its cadres to support Hamas-backed candidates in January’s Palestinian elections. The PRC is virulently anti-Semitic: Like Hamas, it issues official declarations referring to Israel as a “satanic entity” that must be destroyed,” and its propaganda missives refer to Jews as “the sons of monkeys and pigs.” Hamas has found it useful to “outsource” terror to the PRC, particularly the near-daily firing of rockets into southern Israel.
The PRC was established by Samhadana in September 2000, when Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat went to war against Israel. Under Samhadana’s direction, the PRC has been behind hundreds of attacks against the Jewish state. These include firing machine guns, antitank rockets and grenades at Israeli settlements in Gaza, and at nearby Israeli towns — both before and after the Israeli pullout from Gaza. Samhadana’s operatives killed two in a Nov. 20, 2000, attack on a children’s bus near the Gaza town of Kfar Darom. In 2002, the PRC killed at least seven Israel Defense Force soldiers in attacks with improvised explosive devices. On Oct. 15, 2003, it bombed a U.S. embassy convoy in Gaza, killing three American private security contractors. On May 2, 2004, Samhadana’s PRC carried out a shooting attack which killed six Israelis — Tali Hatuel, eight months pregnant, who was gunned down together with her four daughters as she drove through Gaza.
Samhadana was unapologetic about killing Israelis and openly declared his intention to continue doing so. In an April 23, 2006, interview with the London Sunday Telegraph, he declared that the Jewish people were his sole enemy and that he would create a paramilitary force that would be the “nucleus of the future Palestinian army.” Speaking on behalf of the armed groups operating in Palestinian Authority-controlled territory, Samhadana declared: “We have only one enemy. The Jews. We have no other enemy. I will continue to carry the rifle and pull the trigger whenever required to defend my people.”
But in his final days, Samhadana proclaimed his joy over the killing of American soldiers. In an interview with the Associated Press which occurred 10 days before his death, Samhadana denounced U.S. and Israeli efforts to boycott the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, calling the policy “cheap extortion.” According to Samhadana, “The American government and people will pay a dear price for this aggressive and criminal policy against the Arab and Muslim people.” Samhadana added, in what proved to be his final interview: “We are happy when any American soldier is killed anywhere in the world, because the American Army is an aggressor against all the people in the world, particularly the Arab and Muslim worlds.”
After Samhadana’s death, Hamas announced that it was ending its “ceasefire” with Israel — by which it means the decision it previously announced to stop conducting suicide attacks inside Israel (Israel says that Hamas has merely changed its tactics, providing logistical help and money to the PRC’s terrorist operations instead of attacking Israel itself ). At Samhadana’s June 9 funeral, PRC gunmen held posters praising Zarqawi. The group then went largely underground until yesterday, when it attacked the Israeli base.
Don’t be surprised if the PRC resurfaces at some point in the West Bank, where Hamas is working hard to establish a terrorist infrastructure replicating the much more potent one it has established in Gaza. Thus far, Hamas cells in the West Bank have struggled to keep up with Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In October, Israel arrested three PRC members travelling from Gaza Strip through the Sinai and southern Israel into Jenin, where they intended to set up an infrastructure to manufacture rockets and other weapons. Just as Zarqawi’s death didn’t end America’s conflict with Islamofascists in Iraq, Samhadana’s death simply began a new phase of Israel’s struggle against its homicidal neighbors.
Joel Himelfarb is the assistant editor of the editorial page of The Washington Times.