Israeli amnesty offer divides militants
Al Aqsa members are skeptical that the disarmament deal will yield concrete results.
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But many, such as Da'ass Qanna, the respected Al Aqsa leader in the nearby village of Kufr Khalil, are wary that the amnesty will yield tangible results. Earlier this year men under his command kidnapped dozens of Hamas supporters and local elected officials in a program he said was designed to force Hamas to make concessions to Fatah and form a unity government, which fell apart with Hamas's Gaza takeover.Skip to next paragraph
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"This is a big risk for us because we don't see any concrete commitment to making concessions from Israel," he says. "I don't carry a gun because it's my hobby – if Israel withdraws, we'll have no reason to resist anymore. So we're told that what we're doing is strengthening Abbas. Ok, but there's only so much we can do for him. Without results – most important to me is an end to Israeli incursions – this all falls apart."
The hostility between Hamas and Fatah was on full display during a Hamas demonstration in Nablus last Wednesday that nearly veered into bloodshed.
Fatah-aligned secret police, soldiers, and some Al Aqsa members were out in force to contain the roughly 200 women who were peacefully demanding that some 80 Hamas supporters, most family members who were arrested by Fatah a few weeks ago, be released.
"Why are most of the protestors women? Well, they've illegally kidnapped most of the Hamas men in Nablus," said a woman who said her husband, Adnan al-Bedawi, a Koran teacher, was taken on July 4. "My husband is just a supporter, not a leader. But they're afraid there will be a revolution here like there was in Gaza."
Some of the women alleged that their family members had been tortured. After Ahmed al-Haj Ali, a Hamas legislator from Nablus who served 10 years in Israeli prisons, and was detained shortly by Fatah earlier this month, started attacking the corruption of Fatah and its policy of arresting Hamas politicians and supporters, he was roughly grabbed and dragged into a nearby police station.
The increasingly agitated women began chanting, "God is great," and tried to press into the compound where he was being held. After an hour, Mr. Ali emerged and called for calm, but then Rammi Nasser, a Hamas supporter recently released from Israeli prison, showed up and was promptly set upon by the linebacker-sized Al Aqsa member Ahmed Abu Selkah and his friends.
Mr. Selkah is one of the Al Aqsa members on Israel's amnesty list, but he is angry that a number of his close friends remain at risk of arrest. He's also among the many Al Aqsa members who see Hamas members as traitors to the Palestinian cause. After Mr. Nasser wrenched himself out of the Al Aqsa men's grasp, Selkah pulled his 9-millimeter pistol from his pants, and chased Nasser around the frightened, milling crowd, many of whom screamed out they were convinced that Nasser was about to be murdered.
The uniformed Fatah security services did not intervene to control Seltah, who earlier had been mingling with them. Instead, other people pushed Selkah's gun down, and Nasser was dragged into the police station. That led to another surge to the gates by the women, with the police pushing and shouting, and eventually firing dozens of rounds into the air to disperse the crowd. More calls for calm were made by Hamas leaders, and a bout of inter-Palestinian killing was avoided.
Militants could be rearmed in three months
Though many Al Aqsa members are participating in the amnesty program and have handed at least some of their weapons in (there is no mechanism in place to verify complete disarmament), the current plan envisions them joining the security services in three months, which means they'll be armed again.
But many Al Aqsa members, such as Tirawi, remain armed. Despite the differences with his comrades, however, Tirawi says that he isn't close to an all-out split. While he says he's frustrated, he's also waiting to see if more militants are offered amnesty and if progress is made on issues he cares about.
"We've lost a lot of people; this is a resting period for us, a consolidation,'' he says. "The Israelis always use the excuse of our actions as the reason it's not getting rid of settlements or getting its troops away from us. So let's see what comes.
"Do I expect the Israelis to keep their end of the bargain? No, they never do. For now, we'll restrain ourselves to help Fatah's agenda. But if there's a single arrest or assault on us, we'll burn the whole thing down to the ground."