By Joel Brinkley|
The New York Times
Thursday, April 4, 2002
GAZA, April 3 -- The leaders of Hamas, the militant Islamic movement responsible for the most deadly suicide
attacks in Israel in the last week, are pleased and satisfied just now.
"Our spirit is high, our mood is good," said Ismail Abu Shanab, one of the organization's leaders.
If Israel attacks Gaza, as it has areas of the West Bank, he and the other leaders would likely be principal
targets. For now, they live and operate here openly.
By their estimation, the organization's two recent attacks -- the one at a Seder on Passover night in a
Netanya hotel that killed 25 people, and the other in a Haifa cafe that killed 15 -- were the most successful they have ever
made. That is true partly, Mr. Shanab said, because Hamas is now using weapons-grade explosives instead of home made bombs
manufactured using fertilizer, a fact the Israelis have confirmed.
"Forty were killed and 200 injured -- in just two operations,'' another of the leaders, Mahmoud al-Zahar, said with a smile.
What's more, Hamas believes that the Palestinian Authority has given up on negotiating with Israel, negotiations
that Hamas virulently opposed. That has led to a budding alliance between Hamas and Fatah, the organization headed by Yasir Arafat, the
Palestinian leader, despite years of bitter and sometimes violent feuding.
Mr. Arafat "is Palestinian and I am Palestinian," said Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas. "We have
the same problem now. Israel is our enemy."
Sammy Abu Samhadanah, a Fatah commander here, said Hamas was carrying out attacks "because they did not want a peace agreement.
"But now," he added, "we have a common enemy."
Hamas, the second most popular Palestinian movement, behind Fatah, is directed by a "steering committee," as Dr. Zahar put
it, with five principal members. Interviews with four of them -- a cleric, an engineer and two medical doctors -- showed a leadership
unyielding, determined and increasingly confident of achieving their goal, the eradication of Israel as a Jewish state.
They are almost welcoming of the Israeli attacks in the West Bank because they believe that the military campaign will
generate more recruits for Hamas. Already, the leaders say, they have more than enough recruits for suicide attacks.
The political leaders, as they call themselves, are obviously prosperous and live in large, comfortable homes here in
Gaza City with big families. The exception is Sheik Yassin, who uses a wheelchair and lives in a compound in the slums of the city with
guards, assistants and office workers. Dr. Zahar, a surgeon, has a table tennis set in his vast living room, for his seven children. All of
them offer their opinions in calm, cheerful tones suggesting that they view their positions as unremarkable.