Friday 26 December 2008

Hamas: Our Leaders Do Not Fear Death

Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip said Thursday that they were not worried about the possibility that Israel might assassinate the Islamic resistance movement's top leaders.

The officials said that Hamas had prepared itself for such an eventuality to ensure there would be no leadership vacuum if Israel carried out its threats.

They also stressed that the assassination of one or two Hamas leaders would not weaken the movement or deter it from pursuing its path of "resistance" against the Israeli occupation.

"In the past, Israel killed [Hamas founder and spiritual leader] Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and [Yassin's successor] Abdel Aziz Rantisi and that didn't have any effect on Hamas," said Hamas legislator and spokesman Mushir al-Masri.

"On the contrary, the assassinations only strengthened Hamas and increased its popularity among the Palestinians."

Another Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, said that the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip were not afraid of death. "The Hamas leaders are on the front line in the battle against the Israeli occupation," he said. "As such, they are not afraid of joining the bandwagon of martyrs."

Both Barhoum and al-Masri pointed out that Hamas had taken into consideration the possibility that its leaders in the Gaza Strip would be targeted by Israel one day.

"Every Palestinian is a potential target of Israeli crimes," they said. They added that "since there was no shortage of charismatic figures" in Hamas, the movement would not face difficulties in appointing new leaders.

A senior aide to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said that Hamas would name new leaders "within a day or two" so as to avoid a situation where there would be a vacuum in the leadership.

"Hamas is a popular movement that doesn't center on this or that leader," he said. "Almost every member of Hamas is fit to become a leader."

The aide said he didn't know if Hamas had already prepared a list of potential candidates to succeed Haniyeh and other senior figures of the movement if and when they were assassinated by Israel.

"What is certain is that Hamas won't collapse or become weaker if one or two of its leaders are killed," the aide emphasized. "Look what happened to Fatah after Yasser Arafat died - everything is crumbling because Fatah was a one-man show run by Arafat. This is not the case with Hamas."

Haniyeh is one of three Hamas figures who make up the current leadership of the movement in Gaza. The other two are Mahmoud Zahar, the "foreign minister" of Hamas, and Said Siam, the movement's top security official in the Strip.

The three men, who enjoy tremendous popularity among Hamas supporters, are directly responsible for the movement's day-to-day activities. All three have narrowly escaped assassination attempts either by Israel or rival Fatah. Two of Zahar's sons were martyred by the Israeli occupation army over the past few years.

Hamas has two other prominent officials in the Gaza Strip who are likely to fill the vacuum in the event of the demise of Haniyeh, Zahar and Siam. The two are Khalil al-Hayeh and Ahmed Bahr, the acting speaker of the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council.

Al-Hayeh was a member of the Hamas delegation that negotiated with the Egyptians the six-month cease-fire agreement with Israel that ended last Friday, while Bahr has largely served as a prominent spokesman for Hamas, especially in the Arab world. Because the two are widely respected in Hamas circles, they are likely to be promoted in the future.

Asked about the Israeli threats to kill Hamas leaders, al-Hayeh said Thursday: "The blood of our leaders is not more precious than that of our sons who have already been martyred. Nor is our blood more precious than that of our prisoners. We are prepared to sacrifice our blood for the sake of Allah."

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