Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 4   No. 10 Table of Contents
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October 2002 


Sponsoring Terrorism: Syria and Hamas
by Gary C. Gambill

The second of a series of in-depth studies about Syrian ties to extremist groups listed by the US State Department as terrorist organizations. The first article in this series, published in the September 2002 issue of MEIB, addressed Syrian sponsorship of the PFLP-GC. An article on Syrian relations with Hezbollah was published in the February 2002 issue.

Hamas bombing
In terms of lethality, the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas is the crown jewel of Syrian-backed terrorist organizations, having killed more Israeli (and American) civilians over the last decade than any other group sponsored by Damascus. This "success" is often attributed to the organization's grass-roots constituency, charismatic leadership, the growing appeal of Islamic fundamentalism among Palestinians, and external funding from Iran and private donors abroad. Syrian sponsorship of Hamas is not usually regarded as having had a major impact on the group's operational capabilities. The section on Hamas in the US State Department's annual Patterns of Global Terrorism report mentions only that some of the movement's leaders are "present in other parts of the Middle East, including Syria, Lebanon, and Iran."1

In fact, Syrian sponsorship of Hamas has had an enormous impact on the group's operational capacities. Since the mid-1990s, Damascus has been the operational headquarters of the Hamas military wing and a nexus for the transfer of external funds to Hamas operatives in the territories. Syria and Syrian-occupied Lebanon have become major conduits for funneling weapons and explosives to Hamas and safe havens for training hundreds of its operatives.

In addition to greatly enhancing the movement's capacity to kill, Syrian sponsorship has fueled its willingness to kill, by weakening the internal leadership of Hamas vis-a-vis the external leadership, making the group's military cells less responsive to public disaffection with the costs of terror.

Background

The Syrian government's relationship with Palestinian Islamic fundamentalists has not always been so friendly - partly because its relations with Syrian fundamentalists have long been decidedly hostile. The late President Hafez Assad's brutal suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s sparked angry denunciations in Palestinian mosques. In 1983, the chairman of the Higher Islamic Council, Saad al-Din al-Alami, held mass rallies at Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and declared that killing Assad was a duty of all Muslims.2

The Assad regime's hostility toward the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement that had spread from Egypt throughout the Arab Levant by the middle of the century, reflected more than the usual sort of tensions between religious activism and the secular nationalist credo of Syria's ruling Ba'ath party and its domination by Alawites, adherents of a heretical offshoot of Islam. Also underlying this hostility was a fundamental conflict of interests regarding the Arab world's most salient public policy issue. The Brotherhood abstained from violent opposition to Israel, preaching that "internal jihad" should take priority over "external jihad." According to this doctrine, the Arabs had lost Palestine because of their deviation from Islamic norms. Armed struggle against Israel was considered fruitless until the Arabs had purged the evil within (or, in the case of the Syrian Brotherhood, the evildoers within).

In Gaza, the Muslim Brotherhood administered a large network of religious, educational, and social welfare institutions under the authority of Al-Mujamaa Al-Islami [the Islamic Center], headed by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin.3 The leaders of Al-Mujamaa largely adhered to the Brotherhood's doctrine until the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in 1987, which demonstrated both the overwhelming degree of public support for direct confrontation with Israel and the depth of popular disillusionment with the secular PLO. Yassin and other leaders of Al-Mujamaa decided that their goal of Islamizing Palestinian society mandated a violent challenge to Israeli authority.

Ahmed Yassin
Anxious to avoid any official link between Al-Mujamaa and the intifada, which could jeopardize the center's civil institutions, in February 1988 Yassin and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Gaza established an independent organization, Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya [Islamic Resistance Movement], commonly known by its acronym, Hamas, to carry out armed activities against Israel. Instead of confining itself to civil disobedience and rock-throwing, the group began carrying out audacious attacks using guns, knives, and various types of homemade explosives, initially against accused collaborators, then against Israeli soldiers, policemen, and later civilians. Over the next five years, according to Israeli sources, Hamas was responsible for the deaths of 20 Israelis and nearly 100 Palestinians.

Israeli retaliation against Hamas was swift. By the summer of 1989, Israel authorities had outlawed Hamas, arrested Yassin and most other leaders of the group, and imprisoned hundreds of its activists. As a result of these Israeli countermeasures, the group's military apparatus (reorganized as the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Battalions in 1991) adopted a compartmented organizational structure, with individual cells operating secretly and in isolation from one another under the directives of local commanders who remain out of the public eye.

The group also abandoned its centralized, hierarchical leadership structure. Because Yassin had maintained tight control over all aspects of Hamas political and military activity, Israeli intelligence was able to ascertain very easily who was calling the shots (or, perhaps, approving the shots that were called by others). After his arrest, leadership of the movement was diffused among nearly a dozen figures Although some of Yassin's authority passed to Abdulaziz Rantisi in Gaza, most of the group's collective leadership lived outside of the territories. The head of its political committee, Mousa Abu Marzouk, lived in the United States and Jordan in the 1990s. After being deported from Gaza in 1990, the head of the group's interior committee, Imad al-Alami, took up residence in Amman before moving to Teheran, and then Damascus.

The exiled leadership was also strengthened by the movement's increasing dependence on external resources. Whereas Al-Mujamaa had been permitted by the Israelis to operate legally, raise a zakat tax from the local population and easily receive money from outside donors, Hamas was forced to develop a semi-clandestine fundraising network, spanning the Middle East, Western Europe and the United States,4 and build alliances with foreign governments to obtain additional material resources, logistical support, and training. Hamas officials who administered these finance networks held the "power of the purse," while those who forged alliances with rogue states exerted control over military cells trained and provisioned by the outside.

The September 1993 Declaration of Principles signed by Israel and the PLO and the beginning of Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and Jericho the following year created a fundamental conflict of interests between the internal and external leadership factions. The former, while firmly opposed to the Oslo peace process, often pursued accommodation with the PA in order to preserve the integrity of the group's civil infrastructure and remained responsive to Palestinian public opinion, favoring the use of terrorism only when it believed that the escalation of violence would draw public support. The latter remained adamantly opposed to the PA's authority and far more inclined toward the use of terror, irrespective of the economic hardships incurred by the local population. While Qassam Brigade cells in Gaza tended to operate under orders from the internal leadership, cells in the West Bank answered directly to the external leadership. Since it is much more difficult to infiltrate Israel from Gaza than from the West Bank, the external leadership has exerted more control over the timing and frequency of Hamas terror attacks.

Until the mid-1990s, the two most important state sponsors of Hamas were Iran and Jordan. Although the Shi'ite Muslim clerical establishment in Iran had once been reluctant to sponsor authentic Sunni Muslim fundamentalist movements, the revival of the Middle East peace process after the 1991 Gulf War generated a willingness to back virtually any group that had demonstrated a measure of success in striking at Israel. In October 1992, a Hamas delegation headed by Abu Marzouk arrived in Iran and held lengthy meetings with its senior leadership, culminating in a pledge by Teheran to provide the group with an annual subsidy of $30 million, training at Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) facilities, and weapons.

Because Iran is both non-Sunni and non-Arab, however, the country could not serve as a political home away from home for Hamas. Moreover, since Iran is away from the territories, the movement has long sought to establish a strong presence in countries bordering Israel.

Jordan offered an equally important range of benefits. King Hussein, who had established a political alliance with the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood early in his rule and had long supported Islamist institutions in the West Bank as a means of asserting influence vis-a-vis the PLO, allowed the group to establish its main headquarters in Amman. Although Hamas officials in the kingdom were ostensibly prohibited from engaging in illegal activities and closely monitored by Jordanian intelligence, they enjoyed a considerable amount of freedom during the early 1990s.

After the kingdom signed a peace treaty with Israel in October 1994 and began forging closer ties with the PA, the Hamas presence in the kingdom increasingly became a liability - particularly after the group began launching suicide bombings in 1994. In June 1995, Jordan cracked down on Hamas activities in the kingdom and expelled Abu Marzouk and Alami, prompting the latter to relocate the group's interior committee in Damascus. Although the political committee remained headquartered in Amman under Khaled Mashaal and Abu Marzouk eventually returned to Amman two years later, the movement's activities in Jordan were increasingly curtailed during the latter half of the decade.

Hamas and Syria

Although Hamas opened an office in the Yarmouk refugee camp outside Damascus in 1991, there was little evidence of substantial cooperation between Hamas and the Assad regime until after the September 1993 signing of the Declaration of Principles. Shortly thereafter, Assad invited Hamas to join other Syrian-sponsored Palestinian groups in a new Damascus-based rejectionist coalition (the Palestinian National Salvation Front, established under Syrian auspices in 1984, had been strictly limited to secular nationalist factions).

Despite the presence of Syrian and Iranian officials eager to cement a unified opposition front against Arafat, the negotiations between Hamas and the various leftist factions in attendance dragged on for over month and frequently degenerated into vitriolic exchanges. A senior official of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) later recalled that Hamas activists kept "shouting slogans, like 'the people of the book [Jews and Christians] are closer to us than the Reds.'"5 Although the factions eventually concluded an agreement that led to the official establishment of the Alliance of Palestinian Forces (APF) in December and Hamas political committee member Mustafa Kanua took up residence in Damascus, the radical Islamist movement hardly seemed like a natural fit in the Syrian capital.

The first clear indication of a bilateral alliance between Syria and Hamas came in the summer of 1994, as preparations for the establishment of a Palestinian Authority in Gaza and Jericho were underway and King Hussein began hinting that he would sign a separate peace treaty with Israel (a reversal of his long-standing pledge to wait for a comprehensive settlement). On June 19, while Hussein was meeting with Clinton administration officials in Washington, a Hamas delegation led by Ibrahim Ghosheh arrived in Damascus and met with Syrian Vice-president Abdul Halim Khaddam, Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa and other top Syrian officials. Upon his return to Amman, Ghosheh said that the meeting inaugurated "a new era of relations" between Hamas and Syria, "marked by mutual consideration and understanding."6 In October, the Syrians permitted a Hamas delegation to travel to Lebanon and meet with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

Around the same time, a senior Qassam Brigades commander, Sheikh Izz al-Din Khalil, arrived in Damascus and established an operational headquarters for the Hamas military wing. Khalil, who was among the hundreds of Hamas members deported from Gaza to south Lebanon in 1992 (but one of the few who opted not to return), worked closely in conjunction with Syrian military intelligence. Authorization for terror attacks was relayed from the political leadership in Amman to the operational command in Syria, which sent instructions to Qassam Brigade cells in the West Bank by telephone and fax (usually after being routed through Cyprus to obscure the origin). After Alami arrived in 1995, Damascus became the center of all terrorist functions from strategic planning to command and control.

As the only countries bordering Israel that remained officially at war with the Jewish state, Syria and Syrian-occupied Lebanon would prove to be a much more attractive setting for Alami. Not only were they geographically proximate to the Palestinian territories, but the Assad regime imposed far fewer restrictions on its activities than the Jordanian government. Damascus was also an ideal place for Hamas to maintain contacts with Iranian officials - no other Arab country maintained such close relations with the Islamic Republic.

That the Damascus office had become the operational nerve center of the Hamas military wing was readily apparent by 1995. According to Israeli media reports, orders for the suicide bombings in Ramat Gan and Jerusalem in July and August 1995 came from a Qassam Brigades commander in Syria.7 Shortly thereafter, Ehud Ya'ari, the Arab affairs correspondent for Israel's Channel 1 News, explained why Syria allowed these commanders to operate in Damascus: "Assad is telling us: Look, I hold the strings of terror in Lebanon - Hezbollah - as well as the strings of terror in the West Bank. Give me more, talk to me differently."8

PA officials also complained about Syria's role in sponsoring Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel. "We have come to realize that the orders being issued by the military branches of the Islamic groups are coming from the outside," said PA Planning Minister Nabil Shaath in a March 1996 interview. Shaath specifically pointed the finger at Lebanon and Syria, "where the most hard-core military wing is based."9 The connection between Damascus and Hamas terror attacks would become even more apparent during the second Palestinian intifada (see below).

In July 1996, the Jordanians presented Damascus with a detailed file on Hamas and other Islamist organizations in Syria that were planning terrorist attacks against Israeli and Jordanian targets. Under pressure from the United States and Israel, the Assad regime arrested several Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists, as well as Islamic militants from Egypt, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Arab world. The Syrian "crackdown" was short-lived, however, and all of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants were quietly released. For a time, the Syrians also prohibited the Damascus office from issuing direct claims of responsibility for Hamas terror attacks.

The Assad regime's most significant contribution, however, was not the relative freedom and facilities the movement enjoyed in Syria, but the virtually unrestricted access it was granted to Syrian-occupied Lebanon. The group made contact with members of the Shi'ite Islamist Hezbollah movement when hundreds of Hamas members were deported to south Lebanon in 1992, but did not operate openly in Lebanon until warm relations with Damascus were established after the Oslo Accords.

The Beirut office of Hamas, then headed by Mustafa Liddawi, was allowed to openly recruit Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, in conjunction with Iranian Pasdaran commanders, who were allowed by the Syrians to return to the country in great numbers. Both were allowed virtually unrestricted access to the country's 12 refugee camps, the entrances to which have long been tightly controlled by Syrian and Lebanese security forces, particularly Ain al-Hilweh on the outskirts of Sidon, Al-Baddawi near the northern port of Tripoli, and Rashidiye in the south. Amid the abject squalor of the camps, families of Hamas recruits received handsome cash payments from Iran's Institution of Martyrs.

The Syrians also permitted new Hamas recruits to undergo training at Hezbollah and PFLP-GC camps in the Beqaa Valley of eastern Lebanon, an area heavily controlled by the Syrian military. Iranian and Hezbollah instructors in the camps trained hundreds of Hamas operatives in military tactics, explosives manufacturing (a January 1995 explosion in Al-Baddawi which killed 20 people had underscored that the refugee camps were not the place to practice bomb-making), hostage-taking, communications, and intelligence gathering. In July 2000, a Qassam Brigades operative testified during his trial in Israel that he and a group of other Hamas activists traveled across the border from Syria into Lebanon in an Iranian diplomatic vehicle and trained at a Hezbollah camp near Baalbek for two months.10 On several occasions, Hezbollah officials have openly acknowledged training Hamas operatives.11

Whereas Damascus adamantly refused to permit Hamas to organize its own demonstrations in Syria outside of the Yarmouk refugee camp (for fear that they might inspire the country's latent Islamists), it pressed its proxy regime in Lebanon to permit the group to stage high profile rallies in the streets of the Lebanese capital on several occasions. For example, on the eve of the Sharm al-Sheikh summit in mid-October 2000, which brought together US President Bill Clinton, Arafat, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the leaders of Jordan and Egypt in a bid to halt escalating violence in the territories, thousands of Hamas supporters staged public demonstration in the streets of Beirut and burned an effigy of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The licensing of such demonstrations clearly bore the imprimatur of Damascus - if there is one thing that Lebanese of all political and sectarian persuasions agree upon, it is that the Palestinians in Lebanon should stay in their camps.

The Damascus and Beirut offices of Hamas also transferred funds raised from the Arab Gulf to Hamas civil and military personnel in Gaza and the West Bank. Most of the funds, that is - the luxurious cars, extravagant residences and modern office facilities enjoyed by Hamas leaders abroad have long been source of resentment in Gaza. Much like other armchair revolutionaries residing in Damascus and Beirut, Alami and Liddawi succumbed to the rampant corruption in their surroundings. In 1999, tensions erupted when the Gaza leadership accused Alami of squandering an estimated $1 to $3 million allocated for various Hamas functions in Gaza. Although the details of this scandal have not been confirmed, one Arabic paper reported that Alami and Liddawi were swindled by a group of Lebanese businessmen based in Sidon, who ostensibly invested their money in a number of companies in the former Soviet Union. Some, it turned out, did not even exist, while others went bankrupt during an economic crisis in Ukraine.12 In any case, the scandal cost Liddawi his job (He was replaced by Osama Hamdan).

From Amman to Damascus

Aside from bolstering its military capacities, Syrian sponsorship of Hamas strengthened its external leadership vis-a-vis the inside leadership, a power shift that helped fuel waves of terrorism during the mid-to-late 1990s. As more and more resources were put at their disposal, Hamas leaders on the outside adopted a much more uncompromising position than their internal counterparts regarding terror attacks against Israel and relations with the Palestinian Authority.

After his release in October 1997, Yassin called for the movement to focus on rebuilding its organizational base and social welfare network, which had been heavily suppressed by Israel and the PA following Hamas terror attacks in 1995 and 1996. Privately, he lobbied for cooperation with Arafat and a suspension of hostilities with Israel, but was rebuffed by the external leadership, which was capable of ordering terrorist attacks without Yassin's approval. In the spring of 1998, a power struggle erupted between the rival leadership wings over control of Qassam Brigade cells.

Tensions between the two leadership wings peaked in 1999, when Yassin and other internal Hamas leaders began to openly advocate a temporary cease-fire for the first time,13 largely as a result of unprecedented security measures taken by Palestinian security forces and Israel's Shin Bet intelligence agency, in cooperation with the CIA, which had established a strong presence in Ramallah.14 Mashaal, Abu Marzouk and Alami all called for Yassin's resignation. In June 1999, a militant faction calling itself "Units of the Martyr Yahya Ayyash" distributed leaflets charging Yassin with responsibility for the deaths of several Hamas members.

In order to forestall a new wave of terrorist attacks and facilitate implementation of the 1998 Wye River agreement, the Clinton administration put unprecedented pressure on Jordan to put a stop to Hamas activity in the kingdom. During a visit to Washington, King Hussein was told that congress was unlikely to approve his request for foreign aid as long as the movement enjoyed freedom of action in Jordan.

During the summer and fall of 1999, the Jordanians forced the group to close its offices in Amman and expelled Mashaal, Abu Marzouk, and Ghosheh. Although Hussein had been reluctant to take such steps previously, fearing that it would spark internal opposition in the Kingdom, the reaction from mainstream Jordanian Islamists was relatively muted. Hamas had alienated the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan by leaking information to the media intended to sow divisions among its leaders and attempting to recruit its members to work for Hamas.

Records seized during raids on Hamas offices in the kingdom revealed a great deal of illicit activity. According to one high-ranking Jordanian official, Hamas operatives trained in Hezbollah and PFLP-GC camps in Lebanon had infiltrated back into the West Bank through Jordan in 1998 and 1999. The group had also recruited Jordanian citizens from universities in the kingdom and sent them to receive security and intelligence training in Iran.15

The United States had also applied pressure on Syria to stop terrorist groups from operating on its soil. In July 1999, Vice-president Khaddam convened a meeting of Palestinian extremist groups in Damascus and told them that they must adopt peaceful means of expressing their opposition to the peace process (this speech may have been a precondition for the start of Israeli-Syrian negotiations in Shepherdstown, West Virginia five months later). Following the breakdown of talks in early 2000, however, Hamas was back in business. In April 2000, a Hamas cell was uncovered in Nablus and its leader, Jihad Nasata, was found to be taking orders from Hamas leaders in the Syrian capital.16

The Assad regime even allowed the Hamas leaders who had been kicked out of Jordan to resume their political activities in Syria. Although the Hamas political bureau was not officially reestablished in Damascus (or anywhere else), Abu Marzouk and his aides have since worked out of the Syrian capital. Mashaal officially resides in Qatar, where he has not been allowed to undertake any form of political activity, but spends the majority of his time in Syria. The Hamas office in Damascus underwent extensive upgrades to accommodate the larger number of personnel.

The Second Intifada

Since the outbreak of the "Al-Aqsa Inifada" in September 2000, the Hamas military wing has played a major role in perpetuating over two years of unprecedented conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Operations during this period for which Hamas was indisputably responsible have resulted in at least 200 Israeli deaths (the number is higher if one counts attacks which were followed by multiple claims of responsibility.

Syrian sponsorship of Hamas in the late 1990s clearly boosted its operational capabilities during this period. A report by Arafat's security services, leaked to a Jordanian paper in September 2001, addressed "the rush of forces from the ranks of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Lebanon to carry out martyrdom operations."17

According to Israeli press reports, most of the deadliest Hamas suicide attacks over the past year have been linked to Damascus:

  • On September 30, 2001, Israel's Shin Bet security agency announced the capture of over 20 members of a Hamas cell who had received training in Syria and Lebanon, some of whom were involved in planning two suicide bombings in Netanya in April and May that killed 8 Israelis. Most of the operatives had been recruited by Hamas while attending universities in Syria, Sudan, Yemen and other countries.18

  • In December 2001, Israel's Shin Bet security agency announced that 15 members of a Hamas cell in Jerusalem had been arrested, including a bomb expert, Tarek Akesh, who had received training in Syria. Highly sophisticated bombs made by Akesh were reportedly used in the June 2001 bombing of the Dolphinarium disco in Tel Aviv that killed 21 Israelis and Sbarro bombings.

  • A Hamas cell involved in the bombings of a Jerusalem cafe in March 2002, a Rishon Lezion pool hall in May, and a Hebrew University cafeteria in July, resulting in a total of 35 deaths, allegedly received its orders from the Hamas office in Damascus.19

  • Two bombings in Netanya, at the Park Hotel in March and outside a mall in May, which killed a total of 34 people, were masterminded by Qassam Brigades commander Abbas al-Sayyad, who reportedly maintained contact with Hamas leaders in Damascus and received tens of thousands of dollars from them.20

  • The bomb that killed 15 Israelis at a restaurant in Haifa in March 2002 was built by Qayyis Adwan, a Hamas bomb-maker who, according to the Shin Bet, was "in touch" with Hamas headquarters in Syria.21

    The Assad regime has spoken out publicly in defense of Hamas "martyrdom operations" and has even pressed state-appointed religious leaders to justify the attacks. In December 2001, one of the most prominent Islamic leaders in Syria, Mahmoud Akkam of Aleppo, issued a fatwa saying that the killing of Israeli civilians was permissible and "even a duty" under Islamic law. "The Jews in Palestine are considered to be fighters and combatants, even if they are not soldiers, because they came to an area and committed aggression against it," he explained. "Therefore they are all fighters, and consequently it is permissible to kill them."22 Hezbollah's Al-Manar television station has not only flooded the territories with exhortations to launch suicide bombings against Israel, but has broadcast programs explaining how to construct bombs from readily available ingredients such as detergent and fertilizer.

    PFLP-GC arms shipment
    Syria has also been instrumental in supplying the weapons and explosives needed to sustain this reign of terror. Some attempts were made through the usual route. In November 2001, Jordan arrested three members of Hezbollah who attempted to smuggle Katyusha rockets from Syria to the West Bank (an audacious operation that was proudly acknowledged by Nasrallah). The following month, three Islamists were put on trial in Amman on charges of smuggling weapons from Syria to the territories.

    The most important re-supply route was by sea. During the first year of the intifada, two shipments of arms were delivered from north Lebanon, an area heavily occupied by Syrian forces, to Gaza by the PFLP-GC. A third shipment, intercepted by Israel in early May 2001, included 20 RPG-7 rocket launchers, 50 OG-7 rockets, 120 anti-tank grenades, four SA-7 Strella anti-aircraft missiles, two 60 mm mortar, and 50 Katyusha rockets - the latter would have put most Israeli cities within striking distance of Hamas militants, who have been trained to use surface-to-surface missiles.

    Hamas officials became outraged after it became clear that Hezbollah was directly recruiting some of the Hamas operatives it was training and sending them on its own missions in the territories. The dispute reached its high point in early 2001, when Hezbollah suspended the training of Hamas operatives in Lebanon for a few months. The two were reconciled at a conference in Teheran in April 2001.23

    Conclusion

    In recent months, under enormous pressure from the United States, the PA has ostensibly sought to broker a halt to terrorist attacks by Hamas and other militant groups in the territories. Again, the external leadership in Damascus has thwarted the initiative. "Those sitting in Damascus and Teheran see things in a different way from their friends in Gaza or Jericho," explained one PA official. "The local Hamas leadership is much more pragmatic. But, in the end, it is the outsiders who set the tone because they have the money."24 In July, former Clinton administration Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, wrote that "recent efforts by PA officials in Gaza to convince Hamas to stop terror attacks against Israel appeared to be making headway until the Hamas leadership in Gaza got explicit instructions from the Hamas leadership outside . . . to persist with the bombings."25

    In June, US President George W. Bush declared that Syria must close "terrorist camps" and expel "terrorist organizations" operating within its borders, halt "the flow of money, equipment and recruits to terrorist groups seeking the destruction of Israel," and block "the shipment of Iranian supplies to these groups."

    There does not appear to be any imminent change in the relationship between Syria and Hamas. In an interview last month, Mashaal was asked about rumors that the Syrians had asked him to leave. Syria is "cradling the Palestinian resistance and its various factions with pride and steadfastness," he said, adding that "resistance in all its forms, including martyrdom operations [suicide bombings]" will continue.26

    Nevertheless, the Bush administration is opposed to recent congressional legislation mandating sanction against Syria if it does end its sponsorship of terrorist groups, despite the fact that five Americans were among the victims of a July 31 Hamas suicide bombing in Jerusalem. If the families of these victims take legal action, however, the publicity may force the administration to take a tougher line. The 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act allows American citizens to sue foreign governments officially designated as state sponsors of terrorism in US courts. In 2000, the widow and children of Ira Weinstein, an American citizen killed in a February 1996 Hamas suicide bombing, filed a lawsuit against Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass and Gen. Ghazi Kanaan, the head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, charging that they provided material resources and training to those who carried out the attack.

    Notes

      1 US Department of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism-2001, 21 May 2002.
      2 Ziad Abu-Amr, Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), p. 49.
      3 Although the Muslim Brotherhood movement was heavily suppressed in Egypt and Syria, it was allowed to flourish in Palestinian areas occupied by Israeli forces in 1967, largely because its "internal jihad" obstructed efforts by the secular nationalist PLO to incite armed rebellion.
      4 Until the mid-1990s, 31 charitable organizations in the United States and many mosques raised funds on behalf of Hamas. See Yehudit Barsky, Focus on Hamas: Terror by Remote Control, Middle East Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 2, June 1996.
      5 Anders Strindberg, "The Damascus-Based Alliance of Palestinian Forces: A Primer," Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Spring 2000), p. 61.
      6 Associated Press, 25 June 1994.
      7 The Jerusalem Post, 24 August 1995; The New York Times, 24 August 1995.
      8 Channel 1 TV (Jerusalem), 23 August 1995. Translation by BBC World Service.
      9 Le Monde, 4 March 1996.
      10 Ha'aretz, 17 July 2000.
      11 Remarks by Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem, Al-Ahram (Cairo), 4 October 1997; "Hezbollah Training Palestinians, It Says", Knight Ridder News Service, 21 April 2002.
      12 Al-Watan al-Arabi (Paris), 9 July 1999.
      13 The temporary aspect was repeatedly emphasized by advocates of the proposal. "We are just giving [PA President Yasser Arafat] a chance in order to achieve a step," said Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar, a spokesman for Yassin, in May 1999. "This would be a cease fire that would be declared for a specific amount of time - one year, two years, five years." Interview with IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis), 2 May 1999.
      14 Successful efforts by Israeli and PA security forces to uncover and arrest high and middle-ranking Qassam Brigade operatives led to a decline in the number of attacks in 1998 and 1999, while the PA succeeded in greatly reducing the flow of funds to the group from outside sources.
      15 Al-Ahram (Cairo), 28 September 1999.
      16 The Jerusalem Post, 22 August 2000.
      17 Al-Majd (Amman), 24 September 2001.
      18 The Jerusalem Post, 1 October 2001.
      19 The Jerusalem Post, 22 August 2002. The cell was also linked to a failed attempt in May to blow up the Pi Gilot fuel depot north of Tel Aviv.
      20 The Jerusalem Post, 2 August 2002.
      21 The New York Times, 30 June 2002.
      22 Al-Rayah (Doha), 6 December 2001.
      23 Al-Zaman (London), 25 April 2001. Cited in Terrorist Groups Meet in Tehran, RFE/RL Iran Report, Vol. 4, No. 17, 30 April 2001.
      24 The Jerusalem Post, 13 August 2002.
      25 Dennis Ross, "The Hidden Threat in the Mideast," The Wall Street Journal, 24 July 2002.
      26 Al-Zaman (London), 26 September 2002.


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