Defense Update - News Analysis by David Eshel

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Arafat's Dissidents: Challenge to Abu Mazen?

Following the bewitching spell of a week-long temporary and partial lull in Palestinian terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip, neither Palestinians, nor Israelis are sure that it is really happening, or that it will last.
Realists on both sides are extremely cautious in meeting their leader's euphoric attitude, noting that in stark contrast to the blind hopes Israelis are pinning on Abu Mazen ( Mahmoud Abbas) for ending the four-year war, leading Palestinian power brokers as prime minister Ahmed Qureia, Gaza faction leader Mohammed Dahlan, national security adviser Jibril Rajoub and Gaza security chief Mussa Arafat remain conspicuously noncommittal in public. A senior Israeli security official was quoted as reporting: "The entire Palestinian leadership is intently watching Abu Mazen performing his acrobatics on a high wire. They are keeping a safe distance, certain he will fall."
According to Ze'ev Schiff, veteran Israeli journalist was even more pessimistic:
" There are two groups for whom quiet is bad news", writing in Haaretz mid January, "Hezbollah, which is liable to engage in provocative attacks in the territories for the express purpose of wrecking everything. Behind it, of course, stands Iran, which doesn't want a settlement in our region because America will be freed up and might start looking in its direction". Schiff adds: " The other group that spells trouble - big trouble - is a homegrown one: the hard core settlers, the Likud rebels and the rabbis , who are urging their flock of ultra-religious zealots to die for the Land of Israel".
In short, all those, on both sides of the fence, who have made up their minds to disobey orders, stir up provocation and push for violent resistance and kill all hopes for a peaceful reconciliation.

Fatah Dissident Factions: Abu Mazen's Opposition

While from the inside, Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad will not miss their chance of establishing themselves triumphantly as the dominant terrorist forces of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, if Abu Mazen fails to deliver their extectations, or signals weakness, there are also important outside factions who oppose any peace-directed move by a new Palestine administration.
Still a highly dangeous element is Hamas overseas leader Khaled Mashal who recently said bluntly that a ceasefire is not on the cards, only a temporary calm.
How sensitive the present calm is was demonstrated only a few days after Abu Mazen's election, when leaders of his own Fatah organisation in Gaza threatened to renew hostilities against Israelis. Abu Mohammed, a spokesman for the Al Aqsa Brigades, told a news conference in Gaza City that his group demanded that Israel immediately cease all military activity aimed as defending the nation's Jews, or face a new wave of terror. Nor did a single Palestinian terrorist group respond with a quid pro quo commitment to call off hostilities and terrorist action following Israel's offer to release 300 top West Bank terrorists, including mastermind Ibrahim Bader, nephew of the Hamas overseas master Khaled Mashal, whom Israel has hunted for four years.
The fragility of Abu Mazen's position was emphasized in the January 28 municipal elections in the Gaza Strip, in which Hamas achieved a near landslide victory, carrying 75 out of 118 council seats. One of the main losers was Gaza strongman Colonel Mouhammed Dahlan, who only won a distinctive majority here only last summer!
Analysts point out that, By their vote, the Gazan masses demonstrated their belief that they owe Israel's relaxations - not to Israeli goodwill, Abbas' diplomacy or Dahlan's credibility, but to Hamas and its implacable Qassam blitz and murderous suicide offensive, which they perceive as having brought the Sharon government to its knees.
Even if Abu Mazen manages to bring Hamas into his administration, as political opposition, it is highly doubtful wether the various dissident factions in the southern Gaza Strip, like the notorious Popular Resistance Committees or the Abu Rish brigades, will lay down their armed struggle. Above all the dominating Rafah Samhadana family warlords, will refuse to give up their lucrative smuggling network along the Egyptian border and remain there in full control as an ex-territorial enclave, which even Arafat could not subdue.

The Outsiders Dissidents

However, even more dangeous to Abu Mazen's political future could be Palestinian elements and dissident factions from the outside, and foremost those in Lebanon.
For years, the dissident Fatah factions of south Lebanon have kept their distance from Yasser Arafat's mainstream movement, objecting to Oslo and any peace moves.
At present, there are an estimated 350,000 registered Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon. During the Oslo process, ten years ago, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon faced the worst situation, and it is no accident that they have been the most radical as a community, who had no future at all between their homelessness and the eagerness of Lebanon to get rid of them. The refugees' concern was that even if there would be a Palestinian state, they would not be welcomed there.
The Abu Mussa faction
Last February, the Israel Security Agency reported the arrest of a suspected Hezbollah cell, based in the area around the northern city of Nazareth. The two key operatives of the cell were identified as Ghassan and Sirhan Atmallah.
The security sources said Ghassan and his brother Sirhan were recruited by Ibrahim Ajwa, head of the Abu Mussa group in Jordan. Ajwa has been identified as a recruiter for Hezbollah. Through this incident, the Abu Mussa faction regained renewed public attention after many years of disregard.
The Abu Mussa faction, which is a militant terrorist organization, maintaining headquarters in Damascus, broke off from the mainstream Fatah-Arafat organization in May, 1983. The uncovering of the network began already in June 1998. By the end of last December, approximately 20 operatives of the organization, living in Hebron-area villages, had been arrested. According to interrogation findings, operational instructions and large amounts of money were transferred directly to the network from Abu Mussa headquarters in Syria. Members of the network were trained in Lebanon training bases for the use of weapons, and in safe-houses of the organization, located in the area under Palestinian security control in Hebron.The training schedule included live fire and explosives sabotage training.
The Abu Mussa group, also known as Fatah-the Uprising (also known as Palestinian Fatah-Intifada Movement) was created by Colonel Sa'id;Mussa Muhamed Muragha (Abu Mussa) in 1983 as the result of a dramatic uprising against Arafat's leadership during the later stages of the Lebanon war.
On May 9 1983, an order issued by Fatah's Colonel Sa'id Mussa Muragha (Abu Mussa) called upon all Fatah units in the Beka'a to disregard future orders from the Fatah leadership. At first, the Fatah Central Committee belittled the disobedience but later, when some 2,000 of the 10,000 guerrillas in Lebanon joined the rebellion, it became apparent that the mutiny was gaining strength, it tried cutting funds and logistical support to the rebellious units. Pro-Syrian units of al-Sa'iqa, the PFLP-GC, PLA, and even Syrian Army units then backed Abu Mussa's forces.
The rebels then seized Fatah supply depots in the Beka'a on May 25, and in Damascus on May 28. In late June, fighting erupted between loyalist and rebel units in the Beka'a, with the latter taking control of the town of Majdal Anjar and hence the Beirut-Damascus highway from Shtura to the frontier.
Following failure of Palestinian and Arab mediation efforts, loyal Fatah units were gradually forced out of their positions in the Beqa'a northwards to the Nahr al-Barid and Baddawi refugee camps near Tripoli. In late September Arafat himself returned to Tripoli to face his opponents. In October, fighting erupted around the two refugee camps. On November 3, the rebels (backed by Syrian and some Libyan forces) launched a major offensive against Arafat, capturing Nahr al-Barid on November 6. After a brief lull in the fighting, a second offensive captured Baddawi on November 16. Loyalist forces retreated to Tripoli. Rebel forces bombarded their positions and threatened to storm the city.
The military pressures on Arafat were combined with intense Lebanese pressures to leave the city-from especially from the Lebanese right. Only a local Sunni fundamentalist leader , Sa'id Sha'ban and his Islamic Unification Movement militia supported the beleaguered PLO leader.
Following a Saudi-mediated ceasefire agreement on November 25 1983 ( barely a year after their first exodus from Beirut in 1982) some 4,000 'Arafat loyalists evacuated the city by sea to North Yemen, Algeria and Tunisia in Greek ships under the UN flag and with a naval escort provided by France.
Owing to the fact that it was a breakaway element of Fatah, neither Abu Mussa nor members of his group have attended any Palestine National Council (PNC) meetings, and thus remain conspicuousely outside the PLO umbrella. The Group is headquartered in Damascus, Syria, with operations sites in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Last estimates consider between three thousand and thirty-five hundred members belonging to the group. An effective leader now is Abu Khalid al-'Umla, which has a substantial following in the Lebanese refugee camps.
In May, 1998 ten members of the Palestinian Fatah-Intifada Movement were killed and 22 others injured in a deadly Israeli attack. Two Israeli warplanes fired rockets in three separate raids starting at 1:20 am on the area of Taanael in the Syrian controlled Bekaa valley. Fatah-Intifada officials were quoted as saying the raid targeted graduating cadets and may have been aimed at killing the faction's leader, who was at the time absent from the camp.
Colonel Abu Mussa
Sa'id Mussa Muragha [Abu Mussa]: head of Fatah's dissident wing in Lebanon. b.1927; served in Jordanian army and trained at Sandhurst military academy. By 1970, had turned against Jordan & planned unsuccessful coup there in mid70. Joined Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) that year, rising to the position of colonel commander of PLO forces in South Lebanon (1972-77)and deputy military head of PLO operations room in Lebanon (1977-82). Syria attempted his assassination in 1978. 1980-83. Led PLO's defence of Beirut in 1982; but was deeply critical of the leadership's stance, especially with 'Arafat's appointment of his loyalists over more capable officers. Began open criticism in May83, resulting in fracturing of Fatah's forces and open fighting in Oct83; his faction has been popularly known as Fatah-Uprising( FPC), assisted by Syria; Remained in low profile until last year.

Jund al-Sham
Last July, Ghaleb Awwali a leading Hezbolla activist was assassinated in Beirut. Hezbollah immediately claimed, as usual, that Israel's Mossad was behind the killing. The attack took place as Awwali was leaving his home on Moawad street, one of the main commercial areas of the relatively impoverished southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital which remain a key Hezbollah stronghold.
Jund Ash Sham, which had announced its formation a few weeks before in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh, issued a statement claiming responsiblity.
"We have executed one of the symbols of treachery, the Shi'ite Ghaleb Awwali," said Jund Ash-Sham spokesman.
Jund Ash-Sham is a splinter group of Osbat al-Nour ( aka Esbat al-Nour), a highly militant group that sought refuge in the Palestinian refugee camp in Ain al-Hilweh after deadly armed clashes with the Lebanese army at Dinnieh in northern Lebanon in January 2000.
Eleven troops, including an officer, were killed in cave-to-cave combat at the snow-covered Dinniyeh mountain peaks in the heaviest casualty toll the army suffered since the end of the civil war in 1990.
Thirty-nine insurrectionists were also killed, including their leader Bassam Kanj, code-named Abu Aisha, who fought alongside Osama bin Laden against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Forty other mutineers were captured. Some 15 terrorists managed to flee by boat to the Ain al-Hilweh camp in the outskirts of Sidon, provincial capital of south Lebanon, where they found refuge.
Their presence soon developed into an unendurable burden for the Palestinians and survivors of the "Dinniyeh group" fought two days of sporadic battles with automatic rifles and hand grenades against Yasser Arafat's Fatah militia in the camp, in which four gunmen were killed on both sides. The camp remains virtually "out of bounds" to Lebanese army troops and can be regarded as an ex-territorial haven to Palestinian terrorist elements.
Until lately the undisputed leader in the camp was the anti-Fatah dissident Colonel Munir Makdah. Arafat tried to negotiate with hism during the early stages of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, by sending his relative, in March 2001 the late Faisal al Husseini to call on Muneir Makdakh, then head of Fatah militia of south Lebanon to discuss burying the hatchet and recruiting his militiamen into the Intifada. The meeting ended in fiasco and only deepend the rift between the Lebanese Fatah dissidents and Ramallah.
These groups, which do not accept any PNA compromise, including Arafat' Olso Agreement, could become dangerous opponents to Abu Mazen, if given adequate support from Arab rejectionist nations, such as Iran, through its proxy Hezbollah. Although sofar, the Ain al -Hilweh groups had disassociated themselves from Shi'ite support, this could change, if an all-out active opposition against a future ongoing peace process will emerge from the present cease-fire.
Jund Ash-Sham refers to Damascus at the time of the seventh century Ommayyad Islamic califate
The Arabic word al-Sham has been left untranslated for lack of an English equivalent. It is originally written and pronounced al-Sha'm and means "the North" with relation to the Hijaz, covering the lands of present-day Syria, In modern usage al-Sham often means old Damascus
Jund Al Sham's military wing is headed by Imad Yassin, a dropout from Abu Mohjen's Osbat Al Ansar which has long been blacklisted by the United States as a terrorist faction linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.
Finally, there is also a small, but well-positioned, group of veteran PLO and Fatah officials who basically continue to hold to their historic radical positions. Many of these people--most importantly Faruq Qaddumi--have remained abroad because of their opposition to the Oslo agreements. Rather than cooperate with the Insider Fatah militants, the Outsider radicals look down on them for two reasons. First, they feel that the Outsider, full-time PLO cadre made the main historic contribution to the movement. Second, they view the Insiders as too willing to compromise with Israel precisely because a West Bank/Gaza state would more fully satisfy that group's interests. In the succession process, this group--perhaps 20 percent of the Fatah Central Committee--had long wanted Qaddumi to replace Arafat, although they were extremely careful to air their aspirations publicly. Qaddumi, Arafat's nephew, sees himself as an important element in the traditional PLO leadership elite and analysts regard him as a dangeous opponent to Abu Mazen, should the latter lose his present status in any future PNA leadership power struggle struggle.


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