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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Hamas Q&A (source from alt.current-affairs.muslims)

What is Hamas?
Hamas is the Palestinians' largest and most influential Muslim
fundamentalist movement. It has an extensive social service network, as well
as a terrorist wing that has carried out suicide bombings and attacks using
mortars and short-range rockets in the Palestinian territories of the West
Bank and Gaza Strip and inside the pre-1967 boundaries of Israel. It is the
best-organized Palestinian challenger toPresident Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah
party, which holds political control of the Palestinian Authority (PA)-the
autonomous government in the West Bank and Gaza-and a determined foe of
Israeli-Palestinian peace. In Arabic, the word "hamas" means zeal. But it's
also an Arabic acronym for "Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya," or Islamic
Resistance Movement.

What are Hamas' origins?
Hamas grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood, a religious and political
organization founded in Egypt with branches throughout the Arab world.
Beginning in the late 1960s, Hamas' founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh
Ahmed Yassin, preached and did charitable work in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip, both of which were occupied by Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War.
In 1973, Yassin established al-Mujamma' al-Islami (the Islamic Center) to
coordinate the Muslim Brotherhood's political activities in Gaza. Yassin
founded Hamas as the Muslim Brotherhood's local political arm in December
1987, following the eruption of the first intifada, a Palestinian uprising
against Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas published its
official charter in 1988.

The first Hamas suicide bombing took place in April 1993. Five months later,
Yasir Arafat, the then-leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)
leader, and Yitzhak Rabin, then-prime minister of Israel, sealed the Oslo
accords-an Israeli-Palestinian peace pact that eventually unraveled. Rabin
was assassinated by an Israeli right-wing fanatic in November 1995. Arafat
died in November 2004.

Who are Hamas' leaders?
Sheik Yassin was the group's political leader until his assassination in
March 2004 by Israeli security forces as part of an official policy of
targeting Hamas leaders. He was replaced by Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, a
physician. Rantisi was assassinated a month later. Since then, Hamas has
hidden the identities of its senior political leadership to thwart targeting
by Israeli security. Other prominent Hamas officials killed by Israel
include Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, the senior Hamas commander on the West Bank, in
late 2001, and Sheikh Salah Shehada, founder of the group's terror wing, who
died in a July 2002 Israeli airstrike on a Gaza apartment building. Hamas'
current leader is believed to be Sheikh Khalid Meshal, who reportedly
directs the organization from Damascus, Syria.

Where does Hamas operate?
In Gaza, the West Bank, and inside Israel. A few senior Hamas leaders
reportedly live in Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and the Gulf States. Most of the
population of Gaza and the West Bank is officially governed by the PA
government; much of the land, however, is controlled by Israel. After Israel
and the PLO signed the Oslo accords, administrative responsibility for major
cities in the West Bank and Gaza was gradually turned over to the
Palestinian Authority. When the second intifada started in September 2000,
Israel reoccupied major cities in the territories in an effort to quell the
violence. In December 2003, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced a
plan to withdraw all Israeli soldiers and settlers from Gaza and parts of
the West Bank; that process was completed by October 2005. Despite the
withdrawal, Hamas has not renounced violence as a way to achieve its goals;
instead, it has claimed that its suicide attacks were responsible for
driving Israeli forces out of Gaza.

What does Hamas believe and what are its goals?
Hamas combines Palestinian nationalism with Islamic fundamentalism. Its
founding charter commits the group to the destruction of Israel, the
replacement of the PA with an Islamist state on the West Bank and Gaza, and
to raise "the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine." Its leaders
have called suicide attacks the "F-16" of the Palestinian people. Hamas
believes "peace talks will do no good," Rantisi said in April 2004. "We do
not believe we can live with the enemy."

Is Hamas only a terrorist group?
No. In addition to its military wing, the so-called Izz al-Din al-Qassam
Brigade, Hamas devotes much of its estimated $70-million annual budget to an
extensive social services network. It funds schools, orphanages, mosques,
healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues. "Approximately 90
percent of its work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational
activities," writes the Israeli scholar Reuven Paz. The Palestinian
Authority often fails to provide such services; Hamas' efforts in this
area-as well as a reputation for honesty, in contrast to the many Fatah
officials accused of corruption-explain much of its popularity.

How big is Hamas?
Hamas' military wing is believed to have more than 1,000 active members and
thousands of supporters and sympathizers. On March 22, 2004, more than
200,000 Palestinians are estimated to have marched in Yassin's funeral. On
April 18, 2004, a similar number publicly mourned the death of Rantisi.

What attacks is Hamas responsible for?
Hamas is believed to have killed more than 500 people in more than 350
separate terrorist attacks since 1993. Not all Hamas' attacks have been
carried out by suicide bombers. The group has also accepted responsibility
for assaults using mortars, short-range rockets, and small arms fire.

How does Hamas recruit suicide bombers?
The organization generally targets deeply religious young men-although some
bombers have been older. The recruits do not fit the usual psychological
profile of suicidal people, who are often desperate or clinically depressed.
Hamas bombers often hold paying jobs, even in poverty-stricken Gaza. What
they have in common, studies say, is an intense hatred of Israel. After a
bombing, Hamas gives the family of the suicide bomber between $3,000 and
$5,000 and assures them their son died a martyr in holy jihad.

Where does Hamas' money come from?
Much of Hamas' funding comes from Palestinian expatriates, as well as from
private donors in Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Persian Gulf states. Iran
also provides significant support, which some diplomats say could amount to
$20 million to $30 million per year. In addition, some Muslim charities in
the United States, Canada, and Western Europe funnel money into Hamas-backed
social service groups. In December 2001, the Bush administration seized the
assets of the Holy Land Foundation, the largest Muslim charity in the United
States, on suspicions it was funding Hamas.

How does Hamas train the bombers?
The recruits undergo intense religious indoctrination, attend lectures, and
undertake long fasts. The week before the bombing, the volunteers are
watched closely by two Hamas activists for any signs of wavering, according
to Nasra Hassan, writing in The New Yorker. Shortly before the "sacred
explosion," as Hamas calls it, the bomber records a video testament. To draw
inspiration, he repeatedly watches his video and those made by his
predecessors and then sets off for his would-be martyrdom after performing a
ritual ablution and donning clean clothes. Hamas clerics assure the bombers
their deaths will be painless and that dozens of virgins await them in
paradise. The average bombing costs about $150.

How does Hamas differ from the PLO and the PA?
The PLO, which was founded by Arafat, is not a fundamentalist group but the
main secular, nationalist organization of Palestinian politics. After Israel
and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, Arafat founded the Palestinian
Authority, a new Palestinian-led government for the West Bank and Gaza.
Hamas and the PA sometimes cooperate, sometimes compete, and sometimes
clash. Hamas has cut deals with the Palestinian Authority, but frequently
accuses it of corruption and of selling out to Israel and America by
participating in the peace process. Since the PA gained control of Gaza, it
has been under heightened pressure to keep order. Meanwhile, Hamas has
become more brazen in its defiance of the PA, often outgunning Palestinian
police forces. On October 3, 2005, police stormed the Palestinian parliament
building in an appeal for more firepower to combat Hamas.

Is Hamas popular among Palestinians?
Yes, though less so than at the height of the second intifada. Following the
collapse of the peace process in the late 1990s, Hamas' popularity rose as
Arafat's fell. In the spring of 2002, during a period of intensified armed
conflict between Israeli security forces and Hamas militants, polls showed
that Arafat's Fatah faction of the PLO and the Islamists each commanded
support from roughly 30 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
(The remaining Palestinians were either independent, undecided, or supported
other factions.) But trust in Hamas dropped in 2004. In a poll conducted by
the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center (JMCC) after Arafat's death,
18.6 percent of Palestinians named Hamas as the Palestinian faction they
most trusted, down from 23 percent a year earlier. Hamas experienced a
short-lived spike in popularity after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza;
after a rocket explosion at a Hamas rally September 23 killed 15 people,
Hamas blamed Israel and launched rocket attacks against it. Israel
retaliated with punitive air strikes, which Palestinians blamed Hamas for
provoking. The explosion was revealed to be an accident.

Does Hamas participate in the Palestinian electoral process?
Yes and no. Hamas boycotted the January 2005 PA presidential elections. But
it has made strong showings in municipal elections, especially in Gaza. In
December 2004 West Bank local elections, Fatah won 135 seats and Hamas won
75. In Gaza, where Hamas is based, it won 77 out of 118 seats in 10 council
elections held in January 2005. Hamas appeared to have lost its political
momentum in a September 2005 round of local elections in the West Bank:
Fatah, benefiting from the Israeli withdrawal, took 54 percent of the vote
over Hamas' 26 percent. The first Palestinian legislative elections in a
decade are scheduled for January 2006.

What is Palestinian Islamic Jihad?
Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), an offshoot of Hamas, is one faction within
a loosely organized, highly secretive group of Islamic jihad movements that
span the Middle East. PIJ was founded in the late 1970s by a group of
radical Palestinian activists living in Egypt. Led by Fathi Shaqaqi, these
activists broke away from the Muslim Brotherhood movement, arguing it had
become too moderate and had abandoned the Palestinian cause. Inspired by
Iran's Shiite Islamic revolution, PIJ blends Palestinian nationalism, Sunni
Islamic fundamentalism, and Shiite revolutionary thought into an ideological
agenda that stresses Islamic unity cannot be achieved until Israel is
defeated and all of Palestine liberated.

Where does PIJ operate and who are its leaders?
After radicals assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, PIJ's
leadership was expelled and moved to Gaza. During the first Palestinian
intifada, the PIJ leadership was exiled to Lebanon, where it developed close
ties with Hezbollah and Iran. The prominence of the organization has
somewhat diminished since 1995, when Fathi Shaqaqi was gunned down in Malta,
reportedly by Israeli security agents. Ramadan Shallah replaced Shaqaqi but
has never matched his popularity. PIJ was further weakened in February 2003,
when the U.S. Justice Department indicted Shallah-as well as other alleged
Islamic Jihad leaders, including a Florida college professor-for murder and
conspiracy to fund a terrorist organization. Still, PIJ is believed
responsible for suicide bombings inside Israel as recently as June 2003.
Like Hamas leader Khalid Meshal, Shallah now lives in Damascus.

What attacks is PIJ responsible for?
The organization is believed responsible for more than 40 attacks that have
killed more than 100 Israelis. Much like Hamas, PIJ's preferred methods of
assault include bombings, suicide bombings, and mortar attacks.

How does Islamic Jihad differ from Hamas?
Islamic Jihad is a much smaller, less well-organized group of Islamist
radicals who have closer ties to Iran. Unlike Hamas, PIJ has no network of
schools, clinics, mosques, or a political wing. It is solely a terrorist
organization. PIJ has a separate leadership and membership from Hamas, but
the two groups have coordinated attacks.

Do most Palestinians support suicide bombings?
When the second intifada erupted in the fall of 2000, polls showed up to 70
percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza backed suicide bombings.
After four years of fighting, that number dropped to some 41 percent,
according to a December 2004 poll. Those Palestinians who support the tactic
say suicide attacks are a legitimate way of resisting Israeli occupation.

What is the U.S. position on Hamas and PIJ?
Both groups have been denounced by the U.S. government and are included on
the State Department's official list of foreign terrorist organizations.
This designation legally requires all U.S. financial institutions to block
funding for the organizations or their agents.

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