- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

JERUSALEM — Israel continues to hold the body of the Palestinian gunman who killed eight students at a Jewish seminary last week, fearing a public funeral will trigger massive anti-Israeli protests and violence.

The lone attacker, Alaa Abu Dheim, 25, walked into the library at Mercaz Harav Yeshiva and opened fire with an automatic rifle before being fatally shot by an off-duty soldier.

At the Abu Dheim family’s home, Hamas flags were strung across the length of the tent set outside for mourners, despite Hamas’ denial that it was involved in the attack.

A rare consensus has emerged since Thursday’s attack among Israeli and Palestinian defense analysts alike that the massacre may have been the work of Hezbollah, the militant group based in southern Lebanon.

“It was a much higher level of sophistication than the average Hamas attack. Because if you have a gun, and you’re Hamas, you go into any restaurant and open fire,” said Shmuel Bar, a Middle East specialist at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.

Palestinian political analysts concurred that Hezbollah in the past has demonstrated a deep understanding of the symbols and complexes that shape the Israeli psyche.

“This is the first time there’s been a target on this level. People are targeting the body of thought,” said Zakaria al-Qaq, a professor of international relations at Al Quds University. “Hezbollah’s people are the most advanced in following in every detail in Israeli politics and religious life.”

The yeshiva massacre was the worst terrorist attack in Jerusalem in four years.

The attacker belonged to an affluent family in East Jerusalem, and he was engaged to be married in a few months.

Israel’s security officials have so far made no comment as to whether Abu Dheim had outside help or their identity.

On the night of the attack, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television station was the first to publish a claim of responsibility for the attack, which it said was carried out by an unknown group called the Galilee Freedom Brigades.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah recently declared “open war” against Israel in retaliation for the assassination of Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyeh in a Feb. 12 car bombing in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Hezbollah blames Israeli intelligence. Israel has denied involvement.

Hezbollah has a track record of exacting revenge on Israeli and Jewish targets. The March 1992 car bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina — an attack that left 29 dead — is considered to be the quid pro quo for Israel’s assassination of Hezbollah Secretary-General Sheik Abbas el Musawi just a month earlier.

Hezbollah’s 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aries that killed 84 persons was thought to be a reaction to Israel’s kidnapping of Mustafa Dirani, a high-ranking cleric from the militant Shi’ite group, and the strike on a Hezbollah training camp in Lebanon that killed 26.

In Jerusalem yesterday, Israeli police told Reuters news agency they would not hand over Abu Dheim’s body until his family ensured the funeral would be private.

“When the body was about to be handed over, we found out that the family had not kept the conditions that were agreed upon, and it was not given to them,” Jerusalem police spokesman Shmulik Ben-Ruby said.

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