- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2006

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — The Palestinian militia leader who also became the first Hamas appointee killed by the Israel army got the standard funeral honor of masked men unleashing spurts of gunfire and a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands.

But it was the prominence among the mourners of the trademark black skullcap of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi that seemed to be the real tribute to Jamal Abu Samhadana on the day after both militant fugitives were killed — Samhadana in an Israeli raid in Gaza and Zarqawi in a U.S. air strike in Iraq.

The head accessory fad among Gazan youths highlighted the kinship with the al Qaeda insurgency in Iraq and the reach of Zarqawi’s coattails among Muslim militants around the Middle East.

“[Samhadana] was the Zarqawi of Gaza,” said Mohammed Hassouni, an 18-year-old Palestinian with the Popular Resistance Committees militia. “He defended his people and his home. He didn’t want money for his household.”

While Zarqawi made his name by beheading Western hostages, Samhadana became infamous among Israelis for overseeing the launch of homemade Kassem rockets into Israel. His militia is also accused of bombing a U.S. diplomatic convoy in October 2004.

“[Zarqawi] is one of those Muslim fighters who represent Islam and defend Islam,” said Abu Ahmed El Jid, a 20-year-old member of Samhadana’s militia who pawed at worry beads and wore an AK-47 rifle slung across his chest.

Beyond the grizzly fate of being assassinated on the same day, pictures of the two militants also had an eerie resemblance. Palestinian newspapers yesterday featured front-page portraits of Zarqawi and Samhadana that showed both insurgents shared similar physical qualities: rounded faces, tanned skin and a full beard.

“Now that Zarqawi has been killed, a new generation has been born,” said a Popular Resistance Committees leader who called himself Abu Hamseh. “This generation is born to take revenge on the occupation.”

In Gaza City’s open-air clothing and produce market, shop owners offered Zarqawi caps for seven shekels, or $1.50.

Shopkeeper Ashraf El Baza said sales of the Zarqawi caps picked up yesterday in the wake of the assassination of the al Qaeda terrorist.

“They like what Zarqawi did with U.S. soldiers in Iraq,” Mr. El Baza said. “The people don’t like the soldiers — from any country — who want to occupy Arab countries.”

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