Hamas hardliner runs secret Gaza terror cells targeting Fatah

Islamist terror group’s former interior minister, Fatahi Hamad, seen behind recent series of bombings, aims to prevent Palestinian unity progress

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Illustrative: Masked Hamas members carry a model of a rocket during a rally in the central Gaza Strip on December 12, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Illustrative: Masked Hamas members carry a model of a rocket during a rally in the central Gaza Strip on December 12, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

A senior Hamas official has been running a number of secret armed cells over the past few months to carry out attacks against Fatah and Western targets in the Gaza Strip, in part to thwart any moves toward unity between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

According to Palestinian, Israeli and Arab sources who spoke to The Times of Israel, the cell is headed by Fathi Hamad, a hawkish former Hamas interior minister.

Hamad has been operating as a rogue element seeking to undermine Hamas leaders’ stances, especially the Islamist group’s political chief Khaled Mashaal, his deputy Moussa Abu Marzouk, and even former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh.

The acting head of the military wing, Marwan Issa, who is aware of the activities of these cells, is not fully clued in on all their field operations and does not take part in all the decision making.

Hamas's former interior minister Fathi Hamad (YouTube screenshot)
Hamas’s former interior minister Fathi Hamad (YouTube screenshot)

According to the sources, the cells were responsible — among other things — for the series of bombings at the homes of 13 senior Fatah officials in Gaza two months ago, the bombing at the French Cultural Center in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood and, most likely, the bombing last week near the home of unity government spokesman Ihab Bsiso, who lives in Ramallah but whose family remains in the Strip.

The establishment of the Hamas cells comes as the Hamas leadership has found itself increasingly divided over the path ahead for the organization.

While Hamas has not moderated its goal of destroying Israel, calls have grown within the terror group’s echelons to take a more diplomatic approach in the wake of the war with Israel over the summer and increasing isolation from Egypt, which has cracked down on the Islamists since President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi took power over a year ago.

Those voices are mostly heard in closed-door meetings but also in open opinion pieces by Ghazi Hamad, one of the prominent representatives of Hamas in Gaza.

The “moderate voices” call for a reconsideration, although not the abandonment, of the “resistance policies” of the organization and adopting a more compromising policy toward the Palestinian Authority, along the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia.

Among those who support this approach are Marzouk and senior Hamas official Khalil Haya, and they have been joined by recently by Haniyeh who has asked for a new gathering of the “Sharia Council” — the organization’s steering committee — in order to make a decision on a policy change.

Members of the more extremist stream, led by Fathi Hamad, as well as senior figures in the military wing and other with close ties to Iran, reject those demands outright and are seeking a more aggressive line against the PA.

According to those sources, two Islamic countries, Turkey and Iran, are at the center of this debate and each one supports a different camp.

Full details on the widening divide in Hamas and the involvement of regional powers will be published in an analysis over the weekend on The Times of Israel.

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