Exposure; Arafat Hires Hamas Killers
Israel Government Press Office, analysis by Roni Shaked, Security Affairs correspondent, October 16th, 1997
Ghazi Jabali, the Commander of the Palestinian Police, recently informed the trainees to the Palestinian Police Academy that more than 150 members of the Hamas and George Habash’s PFLP are serving in the Palestinian Police. Jabali did not bother to remind his listeners that at least 25 of these men are wanted terrorists, who have carried out attacks against Israel, and for whom the Israeli Justice Ministry has issued official extradition requests.
There are among them men who have been sentenced in the Palestinian courts, so as to prevent their transfer to Israel, and who shortly afterwards, “escaped from jail”.
When it seemed that Israel had forgotten them, they joined the Police, or the Palestinian GSS.
Osama Abu Tayeh, from Rafiah, is a senior Hamas activist, who has carried out a series of murders, among them the murder of soldiers Ehud Rot and Ilan Levy on 24 October, 1993 in Gush Katif, and the murder of Guy Ovadiah on July 19th 1994 in Rafiah.
On September 6th 1995, Israel issued a request for his transfer. A week later he was tried in a special Palestinian security court, and was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. 5 weeks later, on 22 October 1995, the “door revolved”, and he succeeded in escaping from jail. When his escape was reported, Israel demanded to arrest him again.
“Forgot” to return to prison
The Police and Palestinian GSS did not need to look far. Abu Tayeh did not flee and hide as other wanted men had done. He strutted proudly around the city. On November 3, after protracted negotiations with the Palestinian police, he gave himself up, and received luxurious prison conditions: wandering freely by day, and at night returning to sleep in jail. After a few months, Osama Abu-Tayeh “forgot” to return to his cell.
In March, 1996, after the wave of bus-bombings in Jerusalem, and at the Dizengoff Center in Tel-Aviv, Israel demanded that he be re-arrested.
Three or four months later Osama Abu Tayeh was once again free. Once more Israel protested, and once more the PA made excuses. In October, 1996, the Palestinians decided to put an end to Osama Abu Tayeh’s unclear status. He was recruited to the Palestinian Police, donned uniform, and was issued a Kalashnikov assault rifle. This all took place in accordance with the law, and under the auspices of Ghazi Jabali, whose
transfer Israel has also requested, after he instructed his policemen in Nablus to carry out terrorist attacks against settlers.
“Operations on the Colonel’s Orders.”
On 14 July, 1997, at 9 in the evening, a civilian car was making its way from Shchem (Nablus) to the Shomron Jewish community (“settlement”) of Har Bracha. The junior PA officers were sitting inside:
Fawaz Tirawi, 23, a resident of Balata refugee camp near Shchem; Shaher Dawikat, 24, and Munjad Juda, 23, residents of the village Irak Altaiya on the foothills of Mount Ibal. They wore civilian clothing and carried rifles and pistols that were not registered with PA Police.
The three officers encountered an Israeli patrol en route, and were captured after a short battle. “We were operating on the orders of Colonel Jihad Massimi Deputy Commander of the Nablus Police, who received the order from General Ghazzi Jebali,” the three told their interrogators. The three admitted to the interrogators that they had fired upon the car of Rabbi Elyakim Lebanon of the settlement Elon Moreh.
Colonel Jihad Massimi, 37, is a veteran Fatah activist. He was arrested by the Israeli General Security Service (GSS/Shin-Bet) in the late 1970s, charged with membership in a Fatah cell, and sentenced to seven years in prison. After his release, he was appointed Fatah commander in the refugee camps in the Shchem area.
Massimi was expelled to Lebanon on the eve of the Intifada. From there he went to Iraq, where he joined the “Western Front” command, which was the Fatah’s strike force, headed by Abu Jihad. In 1994, he returned to the West bank as part of the PLO quota, where he joined the Fatah command in the Shchem area. He was drafted into the PA police a year ago.
He was arrested after heavy Israeli pressure. “Arrest? You make me laugh,” a journalist close to the PA in Shchem told me. “These are luxury conditions. I think that he actually runs the prison. His jail cell has become a work room. He receives mail there, holds consultations, staff meetings, and signs warrants.
He visits his family in Balata refugee camp whenever he wants. He moves around Shchem in his car, always with bodyguards.”
Why does he need protection?
“The PA says that he is not under arrest, but is in prison for protection. The PA police claim that it has information that Israeli agents are scheming to liquidate him, and that prison is the safest place for him.”
The Arab journalist told me, “You must remember, that Colonel Massimi is a Fatah man, not Hamas, and he thus must be treated differently.”
“Just like any other prisoner.”
This week, I asked to speak with Colonel Massimi. “He is under arrest,” I
was told by one of his aides, and asked me to leave my telephone number, so that the Colonel could call me. To my surprise, the phone actually rang, and Colonel Massimi was on the other end. “I have the status of a prisoner, in a cell just like any other prisoner, with three hours liberty to walk in the yard every day, for the sun. This is a prison for all intents and purposes. Come, see, and get an impression,” he told me.
“The revolving door” – an arrest of Hamas activists related to one of the attacks in Israel, and release after two or three weeks far from the eyes of the media — has become Arafat’s methodology. Fighting Hamas is not his objective. The method is used by him as a lever on Israel to achieve political goals. The arrest of activists is carried out by the PA on Arafat’s instructions following attacks in Israel, and after pressure by Israel the US or European states. After the wave of bombings of bus 18 in Jerusalem and Dizengoff Center in Tel-Aviv, then Prime Minister Shimon Peres applied intense pressure on Arafat to act seriously against Hamas throughout the autonomous areas. At that time there was still trust between the leadership of the PA and the leadership in Israel.
Arafat believed that serious action against Hamas would placate Peres and yield political fruits. Gabril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahalan arrested then over 1000 Hamas activists and closed their mosques and institutions The blow to Hamas was painful.
Three months later, the political change in Israel and the breaking of the trust between the leaders, caused the release of the Hamas activists from prison. Arafat left behind lock and bar only dangerous Hamas activists, who might cause his regime trouble.
The mass arrests carried out by Arafat were not accompanied by investigations. The detainees were held in different regional prisons, in the West Bank or Gaza. Prisons in Rafiah, Khan Yunis or Tul Karem, Jenin, Ramallah, Shchem, Hevron and Bet Lechem (Bethlehem) were also used by Israel. The detainees received unlimited visitors. Their families even provided meals. The “serious” detainees, members of the military wing, were held in central prisons: The central prison in the Gaza Strip, in Gaza city, and in the Jericho prison, used as the central prison of the PA.
According to the Palestinian Interest
Arafat is prepared to fight against the military arm of Hamas, but not against Hamas the political movement. The PA wants to bring Hamas closer to it, to turn it into a legitimate political party, that would be a loyal opposition to Arafat’s regime. Hamas’ treatment is, therefore, dictated by the Palestinian interest. In the context of drawing together, Arafat wants to coopt Hamas activists, or those identifying with the movement, to his regime. Thus, for example, he added Imad Faluji, who was one of Hamas’ leaders in Gaza, as the Minister for Postal Affairs, and
he appointed Sheik Talal of Hevron, who is identified with Hamas, as Minister of Youth and Sports to his government.
But the lower levels, the activists in the field, had their concerns as well. The PA Police, and the PA GSS no less, serve as havens for wanted men in their cities of refuge. After the opening of the Hashmonean Tunnel and the “War of al-Quds”, as Arabs nicknamed the subsequent events, in October 1996, a wholesale release of prisoners wanted by Israel took place. The most senior among them were recruited into the PA Police and GSS. A glance at the list is enough to inspire shock:
Kamel Khalifa, from Khan Yunis, was recruited to the PA GSS. He is a member of the Izzadin el-Kassim Brigades, who began his bloody career on 16th May 1993, with the murder of the two vegetable sellers Nissim Falas from Dimona, and Avshalom Halfon from Ofakim, outside Moshav Gadid near Gush Katif. Members of Khalifa’s cell approached in a Peugeot 404, and at short range opened fire with automatic weapons at the two traders.
On 6th August 1993, Khalifa took part in the killing of two IDF soldiers, Tomer David and Lev Pisahov at the Dir Balout checkpoint, outside Ramallah.
Salem Abu Marouf, from Khan Yunis, is a veteran Hamas member. He took part in the murder of Doron Shushan at the Morag Junction, on January 1st , 1992, and has taken part in the killings of at least ten collaborators. He is currently serving in the PA GSS.
Ataf Hamdan, from Khan Yunis, took part in the kidnapping of soldier Ilan Caravani. He currently serves in the PA GSS.
Mahmoud Abu Samra, and Riad Atar, both veteran Hamas activists from Rafiah, carried out a number of shooting attacks, among them an attack on an IDF patrol on 19th July 1994, in which Lieutenant Guy Ovadia was killed. The two of them currently serve in the PA Police in Gaza.
Imad al-Din Aql, from Gaza, who was one of the assistants of the “Engineer”, Yecchi Ayyash, took part in shooting attacks on IDF patrols throughout 1994. He currently serves in the PA GSS.
The list of prisoners released from Palestinian jails in the last half-year includes the names of arch-terrorists, who, in any properly ordered state, would have spent many years behind bars:
Mohammed Kawajah, from Gaza, a leading figure in Islamic Jihad, who planned the attack at Bet Lid in January, 1995.
Nabil Sharihi, an Islamic Jihad member, who helped prepare the explosive device for the attack at Kfar Darom in April 1995, in which seven Israelis and an American were killed.
Imad Hinawi, a Hamas member, who took part in the murder of soldier David Boim in Bet El in May 1996. In February 1997 he was granted leave for the Id al-Fitr holiday, and did not return to jail.
Mohamed Badran, an Islamic Jihad member, took part in the shooting attack outside Beidiya village in Samaria, in which Police Sergeant Meir Alush was killed.
Shahadi Abed al-Rahim Kahlout, an Islamic Jihad member from Gaza, was intended to be the third suicide bomber at the Bet Lid attack in January, 1995.
Iyad Ali Hasani, from Gaza, a senior Islamic Jihad member, who was responsible for the Dizengoff Center bombing in March, 1996, in which 14 people were killed. In February, 1997, he was permitted leave by the PA for the Id al-Fitr festival. He did not return, and has not been returned, to jail. The colleagues of Hassan Salameh, the terrorist who planned and launched the suicide attacks on the 18 Bus route in Jerusalem, were also arrested, and have also been freed, among them Arafat Khawasme, Nabil Natshe and Jihad Sawiti, who have also served as aides to Mouhadin Sharif, the second “Engineer”, and who were involved in the attempted kidnap of an Israeli soldier in Jerusalem in May, 1996.
An Impossible Escape
Hevron jail is known as one of the prisons from which escape is impossible. This is a guarded and reinforced prison, whose cell windows are especially small with wide bars installed. The prison building is located inside a fenced PA army installation, the gate usually under a permanent guard. Despite all this, in early July 1997, the commander of the Kfar Sourif cell of Izzadin el-Kassim, Abd a-Rahman Ganimath, escaped from there. Members of this cell murdered the late soldier Sharon Edri, carried out the Apropos Cafe bombing in Tel-Aviv, murdered the couple Unger, three members of the Munk family, IDF Dr. Oz Tivon and Sergeant Yaniv Schimmel. Ganimath has never been tried. He was held in a PA prison without a judicial order or arrest warrant.
It has become clear, that the doors of even Hevron jail do not stand firm on their hinges. On 2 July, 1997, Ganimath escaped from prison and freely walks around Hevron. Only after heavy Israeli pressure on Gabril Rajoub, was Ganimath “convinced” to turn himself in and return to prison.
Another murderer, no less dangerous, is Abd al-Nasr Kisi, a member of the Popular Front, who participated in the murder of Eta Tzur and her son Ephraim, from Bet-El, on 11 December, 1996. He was tried by the PA’s night court and sentenced to life imprisonment. Six months later, in June 1997, he was brought to a Jericho hospital for medical treatment for leg pains. The pains did not bother him from jumping from the window of his room and easily walk away to his freedom.
Going Out for a Trip Around Town
Had the Shchem jail’s “revolving door” been closed in September 1996, the attacks on Machane Yehuda Market and Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall in Jerusalem might have been prevented. The four human bombs from the village of Azira Shamaliya, Bashar Zualha, Yosef Alshouli, Muwaila Jarara’a and Touwfik Yassin, were in the PA prison in Shchem, where they were treated with respect.
Their families said that they would sometimes come to the prison and take their imprisoned sons on walks through the city, meals at restaurants, visit relatives or simply stroll around.
The four were not arrested; in August 1996, they turned themselves in after negotiations with the PA GSS. The internment agreement determined easy prison conditions, including liberties. The four were held
in the interrogation installation of the Palestinian Intelligence. In September 1996, Israel demanded their extradition, and in response, the PA swung the door, and the four went free, not through a window whose bars had been removed, but through the front door.
A senior security official said this week that, “The headlines and stories in the media regarding arrests of Hamas activists by the PA, are tales of the Arabian Nights. Prison is not prison, most of the prisoners have enhanced conditions, and there are prisoners who come to jail only for the night. The problem is that we have never witnessed hostility or difficulty on the part of the population towards the detainees. They live in a supportive environment, they do not fear the populace. The opposite: The street sees them as heroes.” The senior official emphasized that the behavior of the PA, and its Chairman, Yassir Arafat, towards the arrest of suspects is two-faced.
“Don’t be Impressed by Words.”
According to senior security officials, shortly after standing beside US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, and declaring to the media that he would arrest suspects and fight terrorism, Yassir Arafat telephoned Dr. Abd al-Aziz Rentisi, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, telling him: Don’t pay any attention to my talk of arrests.
“It is very simple and clear,” says the security establishment. “Arafat does not believe that he has to arrest these people.”
After the identities of the Jerusalem suicide bombers became clear, Arafat responded angrily: “We are disappointed with Hamas. They promised us that bombers would come from abroad. My trust in them is broken.” He ordered his staff to launch an attack on Hamas. The PA closed 16 Hamas institutions in Gaza, and arrested 20 activists in Judea and Samaria, based on lists provided by the Israeli General Security Service (GSS/Shin-Bet) .
The Israeli security establishment was not impressed that a new policy had been initiated.
For now, detainees in PA prisons number approximately 90 Hamas activists, mostly young, members of the military arm, arrested since March 1996. Some 20 of them were arrested in the Shchem area after the Jerusalem suicide bombers were identified. Hamas leaders demand their release at every meeting with Arafat or his representatives. The released Sheik Yassin will also demand that Arafat release them.
The release of prisoners, believes the PA, will improve relations with Hamas and lower intra-Arab tensions. The head of the PA GSS in Gaza, Mohammed Dahalan, was quick to warn that “following the release of Sheik Yassin, Hamas will pressure us to release its imprisoned people,” and the security establishment says that the wave of releases of Hamas activists, and the reopening of the 16 Hamas institutions in Gaza, starting with the Islamic Mujama’a, founded by Sheik Yassin, is only a matter of time.