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We can stop Hamas, but we won’t

Dinsdag, Oktober 1, 2002 / Last Modified: Zaterdag, December 31, 2011

By Matthew Gutman, Jerusalem Post, October 1, 2002

Note: stopping Hamas and other terror was the basic obligation of the
Palestinian Authority for the transfer of most of the West Bank and Gaza to its rule.

The Palestinian Authority has the strength but not the will to smash terrorist
groups and their support networks in the Gaza Strip, a top PA security official
said yesterday.

In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post, Brig.-Gen. Muhammad
Masri, head of the Political Security Department at the Palestinian General
Intelligence Service, said the long-awaited crackdown on Hamas promised by
former PA interior minister Abdel Razek Yahya will likely never happen.

As part of a sweeping set of reforms that began in late June, the PA has
sought both to centralize its myriad security services and to rein in Hamas, a
group responsible for more than half of all Israeli deaths due to terrorist attacks
in the past two years of conflict.

“We have enough men and arms, but not political horizon and no incentive, to
enter into bloody conflict with other Palestinians,” said Masri from his office at
the PA’s GIS building just north of Gaza City.

The PA security establishment sees no compelling reason to confront either
Hamas, whose popularity is soaring, or the other Palestinian rejectionist groups.
For this reason, Masri does not anticipate the ending of terrorist attacks in Israel
in the near future.

Taking on Hamas at this juncture, with January’s Palestinian elections looming,
would be political suicide, added the general. “The Palestinian street shows
great support for Hamas and other groups opposing the PA, so we prefer to use
other, more democratic methods,” he said.

“Capabilities and principle are two different things. Besides ending the
occupation, our major goal is not to be labeled collaborators,” said Masri.

For this reason, he added, his men are much more actively engaged in
protecting themselves — against both Israel and the opposition groups — than
they are in breaking the terrorist infrastructure, which many Palestinians
consider the backbone of the Gaza Strip.

“Why should we be responsible for security in Tel Aviv,” asked Masri, “when
we have enough trouble protecting our own people against Israel?”

For this reason, the GIS is not engaged in roundups of suspects, but is
attempting to dialogue with them.

According to PA sources, Fatah, which is affiliated with PA Chairman Yasser
Arafat, was a hairsbreadth away from convincing Hamas to agree to a general
cease-fire before Israel’s assassination of Salah Shehadeh on July 23.

Part of the reason Hamas’s support runs so much deeper than that of the PA,
noted Masri, is that the organization was active for several years before the
PLO entered the territories in 1994. Over the years, its support only grew.

“If 10 years ago it took them a year to recruit a martyr, now they have an
overflow of volunteers of all ages and both sexes, to such an extent that they
actually have to turn people away,” said Masri.

Hamas political leader Dr. Mahmoud Zahar scoffed at the notion that dialogue
could bring an end to the group’s “armed resistance.” He accused the PA of
arriving in the territories and diving headlong into corruption, which eventually
alienated the Palestinian populace.

Far from working against Hamas, Zahar noted that it was Fatah men who aided
and protected the identity of an injured Muhammad Deif in the immediate
aftermath of Israel’s botched September 26 assassination attempt on the
Hamas military leader.

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