GAZA CITY — THE Palestinian police force has achieved 80 percent of its goal of neutralizing the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, and has broken a secret organization within the Hamas military wing bent on destroying Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA).
In a six-week sweep following a spate of suicide bombs that claimed the lives of 62, Palestinian police have arrested more than 600 Islamic militants, including all but two of Hamas's 13 military wing leaders. The crackdown has angered university students and elicited an apology from Mr. Arafat for the police's use of tear gas on them.
Col. Mohammed Dahlan, head of Arafat's Preventative Security in Gaza, says there will be no negotiations with Hamas political leaders until the military factions of Hamas are disbanded. "The goal is to achieve the existence of only one authority in the Palestinian self-rule territories," he told the Monitor.
Colonel Dahlan says Palestinian police discovered a secret group within the Hamas military wing during interrogations of Hamas activists arrested in the crackdown. He says that 70 members of the secret group have been arrested, but seven are still at large.
He adds that the group operated without the knowledge of Hamas military wing leaders in Gaza. Instead, the group operated under the direction of Hamas military leaders based in Amman, Jordan, and had killed four Palestinian policemen, one moderate member of the Hamas military wing, and targeted members of the PA and Israelis.
Al-Hayat, a London-based Arabic newspaper, last week reported that Israeli-Arab intermediaries are negotiating with Hamas officials on Arafat's behalf to secure a cease-fire by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad until after the May 29 Israeli elections.
In return for a cease-fire, the report also said that Arafat was considering releasing some Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists arrested in the crackdown in Gaza and the West Bank, which have been sealed off by Israel since the four suicide bombs struck.
But PA Secretary Tayeb Abdel-Rahim Saturday denied that there were new attempts to negotiate with Hamas and quoted Arafat as telling a PA Cabinet meeting Friday that there will be no negotiations with Hamas, because it is trying to destroy the Palestinian Authority via leaders based outside the Palestinian self-rule areas.
Police talked with militant leader
Dahlan also disclosed for the first time that he had held negotiations with a senior official of the Hamas military wing, deputy Gaza leader Abdel-Fattah Satari, between the assassination of Hamas master bombmaker Yehiya Ayyash on Jan. 5 and the first suicide bombing in Jerusalem on Feb. 25.
The negotiations followed a December agreement between Hamas and PA officials that Hamas would not embarrass the PA. This was understood by both parties as Hamas's cessation of violent acts against Israel so long as Israel would cease its arrest and assassinations of Hamas leaders.
"Our strategy was to reach an agreement with Hamas ... we worked for seven months on this. But Hamas did not give the PA a chance to implement its plan, and Israel failed us with the assassination of Ayyash in Palestinian territory," Dahlan says.
Dahlan said that his negotiations to halt the suicide bombings with Mr. Satari, who is now under arrest, took place with the full knowledge and tacit approval of the Israeli security services, which also facilitated Hamas leaders who traveled to Cairo in December last year for talks with the PA.
He said Israel also had allowed a meeting between jailed Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Hamas and PA officials last year.
"There was an understanding between us and the Israelis regarding Hamas, but once they killed Ayyash, Hamas lost confidence," he says.
An Israeli Defense Force spokesman had no comment to make on Dahlan's claims. "In general we don't interfere in negotiations that the Palestinian Authority is conducting," was the cryptic response of an Israeli official.
'We will arrest Deif'
Dahlan denied news reports that he had held meetings with Mohammed Deif, leader of the military wing, before the suicide bombings.
"I am confident that we will arrest Deif," Dahlan says "He is in Gaza, and his infrastructure has been surrounded ... it is only a matter of time."
But Dahlan added that arresting Mr. Deif would not put an end to the violence. He says Deif was connected to the recent spate of suicide bombings, but was not in control of the secret organization planning to destroy the PA.
"Arresting Deif, whom the Israelis have made a hero [by linking his arrest to the redeployment of Israeli troops from Hebron in the West Bank], will not solve the problem. The destruction of the Hamas military wing will solve the problem," Dahlan says.
Last Tuesday, the military wing vowed to carry out more attacks against Israel. Their leaflets distributed in Gaza on Friday ruled out a plan by Hamas moderate and other militant leaders to initiate a dialogue with hard-line Hamas leaders in Amman.
A three-man independent delegation, including Hamas supporters Jamil Hamami of Jerusalem and Imad Faloji of Gaza, was waiting to travel to Amman yesterday to negotiate with hard-line Hamas external leaders who are said by Dahlan to be behind the bombings. But the three were unable to get visas to enter Jordan. Mr. Faloji, a former Hamas leader who now sits on the elected Palestinian Council, is known to be close to Arafat and had frequently mediated between Hamas and the PA. Two weeks ago Arafat allowed him to visit Hamas leaders in jail.