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October 1998 
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MER - Washington - 31 Oct 1998:

It was just a year ago that an Israeli assassination squad was caught in Amman going after one of the top Hamas officials with a secret poison. King Hussein was desperate. He didn't want to face pressures to bring to trial, and maybe execute, the Mossad spys...what to do? Not to mention, Hussein's long connection with both the CIA and Mossad might come back to haunt him. Indeed, after the Israeli-Jordian peace treaty Hussein had hosted a secret party in Amman to which the current and former heads of Mossad, and their wives, were all lavishly wined and dined...and thanked for keeping the Hashemite King on his throne!

So a little public relations deal was struck. The Israelis "released" the founder of Hamas from their prisons, something they had wanted to do for their own reasons anyway, and Hussein and Arafat were very visibly seen running to his bedside all kisses and smiles claiming the credit. And in all the hoopla the Mossad assassins were whisked out of Amman.

Now, only a year later, Sheik Yassin and the leadership of Hamas are in Gaza prisons* -- thanks to the very same Hussein and Arafat. What a twisted world of smoke and mirrors the contemporary Middle East has become.

Last year at this time in an MER Editorial we wrote: ...The Israelis continue to prepare to either force Arafat's "Authority" to succumb to their designs and to repress and destroy all opposition, or else to pursue their second alternative and do things themselves. The "or else" is Israel's plan to destroy the Hamas social and political infrastructure themselves, even if that means sending Israeli troops into the "autonomous" areas. The Israeli army has again been conducting such "war games" in recent months."

The following articles about Hamas were published by MER a year ago this month:


[* Technically, in Yassin's case, "house arrest" complete with Arafat's Kalishnakov totting guards and all contact with the outside severed.]


THE EMERGING HAMAS ROLE - A Most Uncertain Future MER - Washington - 10 October, 1997:

The Middle East today is so unstable that practically anything is possible. A regional war, probably limited but with major political ramifications expected to emerge from it, is possible -- and indeed on all sides considerable effort and money are being spent to arm and prepare for such an eventuality. The demise of the Arafat "PA" and the deceptive "Oslo Peace Process" is certainly possible -- especially should Arafat pass from the scene and/or the Israeli attempts to foment a Palestinian civil war be successful. Or possibly even a ceasefire with Hamas and Hizbollah could result if the regional situation otherwise threatens to destabilize further -- clearly this is why King Hussein of Jordan is so nervous, so active, and so desperate to keep Hamas and the Islamacists in check. An attempt to somehow co-opt Hamas in one way or another does seem to be underway from te Israeli/U.S./client-regimes side; and Hamas has its own reasons it seems for not keeping the door shut and locked. Normally American reporting and wire service reports are not the stuff of MER. But the extraordinary events of the past few weeks have resulted in some unusually insightful reporting, and these two Associated Press articles from the past week are worth pondering.

Even so, a very skeptical eye is needed now more than ever these days. The "establishment" media misses and misreports so much; plus ails so often in both perspective and analysis. For instance, nearly all of the Palestinians "released" by Israel were scheduled for release in coming months anyway. And with Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the Israelis have been extremely nervous about the possibility he could die in their prisons, and had been looking for some time for a way to get rid of him even at substantial short-term political cost.

Plus by crafting the "deal" as they did, "in return" for "releasing" those the Israelis were planning to let go in one way or another anyway, the King of Jordan had the excuse he needed to return the Mossad assassins to his "peace partner" across the river -- something he also desperately wanted to do in view of his long-time collusion with both the Israelis and the Americans spanning so many decades. Just imagine what might come out in a trial the whole world would be watching! HAMAS PLAYING LARGE ROLE IN MIDEAST By LAURA KING

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP - 10/10/97) - For the radical Islamic group Hamas, the past few days have been satisfying ones indeed.

As a result of an extraordinary convergence of fate and politics, Hamas now has more power, more prestige - and the clout to demand a greater role in Palestinian policy making.

The wild cheers echoing through a Gaza City soccer stadium on Monday reflected a keen appreciation of this reversal of fortune for Hamas, a virulent opponent of peace with Israel. More than 10,000 people turned out to pay fervent tribute to the group's founder and spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, freed after eight years in an Israeli jail. Followers waving Palestinian flags waited hours in the sweltering sun to catch a glimpse of the 61-year-old Yassin and hear a few brief comments relayed by an aide. The homecoming could not have been sweeter - especially since it coincided with the spectacle of Israel's prime minister squirming over a botched attempt to assassinate another Hamas leader, Khalid Mashaal, in Jordan.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted the attack was justified, but agreed to launch a probe of what critics have ridiculed as an intelligence operation out of the pages of pulp fiction.

That Mashaal escaped nearly unscathed was just icing on the cake for Hamas. After the Sept. 25 attack, he spent a week in a Jordanian hospital, recovering from a dose of poison administered by two assailants who jumped him on a street in Amman - and painting himself as the victim of terrorism.

Yassin's freedom was only part of the price Israel paid for that bungled hit. As part of a widely reported swap for the two Israeli agents involved in the assassination attempt, the Netanyahu government also freed 20 Palestinian and Jordanian prisoners who returned home Monday. Both Israeli and Jordanian officials said more prisoners would be freed in the next two weeks. As if this wasn't bonanza enough for Hamas, the freeing of these activists badly undermines Netanyahu's demands that Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority crack down on Hamas by jailing its members. The assassination attempt on Jordanian soil also hurt King Hussein, perhaps eroding his efforts to contain an increasingly powerful Islamic fundamentalist movement at home. To counter any notion that he had condoned the attack, the monarch made sure Yassin got red-carpet treatment after Israel flew him to Jordan after his releasefrom prison last week. Not only Netanyahu and King Hussein find themselves in difficult straits - so does Hamas' chief rival, Arafat. The outpouring of support for Yassin forced Arafat to pay public obeisance to the returning sheik. He flew to Jordan to shower the Hamas leader with kisses and good wishes. Arafat and his advisers have tried to put the best possible face on Yassin's return, stressing that he had spoken in the past of halting attacks against Israel. Hamas has carried out more than a dozen suicide bombings since 1994. Senior Palestinian sources also argued that Yassin's presence would shift the center of authority in Hamas back to Gaza - and away from its more radical leaders abroad. But Arafat, perhaps reluctant to stand by as Hamas leaders delivered fiery anti-Israel speeches, was conspicuously absent from Yassin's emotional homecoming in Gaza on Monday.

However, Yassin made conciliatory gestures toward Arafat today, calling him ``my president.''

``I say to the Palestinian Authority that we are not fighting them and we will not fight them,'' he told reporters after arriving in Gaza City. ``We will not allow for there to be a struggle between us and our brothers in the Palestinian Authority. We are one against the enemy.'' Later, speaking to hundreds of Islamic University students, Yassin asked them to stop chanting ``We are all Hamas.''

``Such slogans only create hatred,'' he said. ``This is something I do not want from you.''

Israeli observers took gloomy note of Hamas' public-relations gains.

``Mounting public sympathy for the leader of the Hamas movement, which is in the forefront of the opposition to Arafat and his government, can only come at Arafat's expense and so reduce his ability to fight Hamas,'' said the Ha'aretz newspaper.

Hamas, for its part, has put the Palestinian Authority on notice that it expects to no longer be treated like a spurned outsider.

``It's time to promote Palestinian unity and establish a fruitful Palestinian dialogue,'' Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantisi said in Gaza, hours after Yassin's homecoming. He coupled that with a demand that Hamas organizations closed in the last two weeks as part of a tentative Arafat crackdown be reopened. At the soccer stadium, it seemed to some in the sweltering crowd of Hamas followers that more than Yassin's day had come.

``We waited and waited for this,'' said engineer Issa Nashal. ``Now our time is finally here.'' HAMAS LEADER HINTS AT CEASE FIRE By IBRAHIM BARZAK

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP - 10/10/97) - A day after his triumphant homecoming, Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin today held out the possibility of a cease-fire with Israel that would end suicide bombings.

The offer, although accompanied by demands for a full Israeli withdrawal from occupied lands and other conditions, indicated the Islamic militant group was willing to negotiate rather than destroy the peace process. Hamas leaders previously have spoken only of a ``holy war'' to establish an Islamic state in all of what is now Israel. Meanwhile, an Israeli official confirmed reports that Israel had received an earlier cease-fire proposal from Hamas - conveyed via King Hussein of Jordan - two days before Israel's botched assassination attempt on another Hamas leader in Jordan.

But the proposal was handed to low-level officials and did not reach Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu until the day after the assassination attempt, and then only as an intelligence report, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

David Bar-Illan, a senior Netanyahu aide, said the latest Hamas peace feeler was ``a positive change'' despite the ``unacceptable conditions.''

``We would like to hope that it means that he will preach peace rather than violence,'' Bar-Illan said today. ``There is no question he has a following and charisma.'' However, he said Israel would not pursue a cease-fire agreement until Hamas formally abandons its policy of attacking Israelis and destroying the Jewish state.

Speaking at his home in Gaza City, Yassin said he told Israeli officials Hamas would stop targeting civilians if Israel would do the same and also halt the confiscation of Palestinian land for Jewish settlements.

``Israel is confiscating and killing,'' said Yassin. ``If Israel stops its attacks against our civilians, we will not do anything against civilians.''

Yassin also made conciliatory gestures toward Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who has been under pressure from Israel and the United States to crack down on Hamas.

The sheik said there was no competition between Hamas and Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

``I say to the Palestinian Authority that we are not fighting them and we will not fighting them,'' Yassin said. ``We will not allow for there to be a struggle between us and our brothers ... We are one against the enemy.''

``My president is the president of the Palestinian state and the president of the Palestinian people, whom I am one of,'' he added.

Speaking to hundreds of Islamic University students near his home, Yassin asked them to stop chanting, ``We are all Hamas.''

``Such slogans only create hatred,'' the sheik told the students. ``This is something I do not want from you.'' Yassin, who served eight years of a life sentence for ordering killings of Israelis and Palestinian collaborators, returned to Gaza on Monday as part of a swap worked out following the botched Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan on Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal. Israel also released 20 other Palestinian and Jordanian prisoners, and in return two Israeli Mossad agents captured in the bungled operation were freed.

In his first public comments on the operation Monday, Netanyahu indirectly accepted responsibility but insisted Israel had no choice but to ``fight terrorism.'' ``As prime minister, I have the highest responsibility to fight in every possible way against terror,'' he said. ``This is a war. There are no concessions in the war against terror.'' Under the auspices of U.S. mediator Dennis Ross, meanwhile, Israel and the Palestinians resumed negotiations today after a seven-month hiatus. Lower-level committees met to try to resolve disagreements over unimplemented parts of past Israel-Palestnian accords, such as a seaport and airport in Gaza and road links between Gaza and the West Bank. Ross also met separately today with Arafat and Netanyahu. Yassin and other Hamas leaders stopped short of endorsing the idea of a peace settlement to end the conflict with Israel, offering only a limited cease-fire that would temporarily stop the conflict.

``Look, in the Islamic religion, we can make a cease-fire with our enemy. But how should this cease-fire look? We should have common terms. Until now, we didn't agree with our enemy, Israel, on such conditions,'' Yassin said.

``We say only that the Islam religion gives us the right to have a limited cease-fire, and did not give the right to have a cease-fire forever.''

In offering a cease-fire, Yassin used the word ``hudna,'' the term used by the Prophet Mohammed in arranging a 10-year truce with the Qraish, an ancient tribe that once ruled Mecca. A senior Israeli security official said Israel was doubtful of the sincerity of the offer, saying Hamas leaders feel they have a religious justification to make temporary agreements that they do not intend to keep. He said the truce with the Qraish was broken, lasting only 18 months before the prophet's forces took Mecca.

Yassin also left unclear what Hamas' demands were.

``Could you imagine that anyone who was going to have a cease-fire would publish his conditions in the media before he sits in front of his enemy? This is not logical,'' he said. He then added demands that were rejected by Israel out of hand.

``If Israel would withdraw completely from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and leave its settlements there and in Jerusalem, I will have a cease-fire with Israel,'' he said. ``I am ready to sign a cease-fire agreement with them.''



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