April 23, 2006.
Jamal Abu Samhadana had just been appointed chief of the Palestinian security
services, but his supporters saw no reason to celebrate.
Instead of driving around the potholed streets firing their AK47s in the air, his
advisers gathered in a tin-roofed hut in a remote part of the Gaza territory, safe
– they hoped – from prying ears. For now is a dangerous time to be the
Palestinians’ security supremo, and Abu Samhadana’s allies know that even if
the Israelis do not succeed in killing him, there are plenty of Palestinian rivals
who might like to.
In his first interview with a British newspaper since his controversial
appointment as Hamas’s “iron glove” last week, Abu Samhadana, 43, revealed
his ambitions for the paramilitary force under his control.
“This will be the nucleus of the future Palestinian army,” he said. “The
resistance must continue.”
Abu Samhadana was speaking only days after nine Israelis were killed by a
Palestinian suicide bomber. He can expect that Israel security officials are
hungry for revenge for the Tel Aviv bombing and regard him as an attractive
For his part, the new commander-in-chief remained defiant and gave no sign
that he would seek to rein in future attacks.
He told The Sunday Telegraph: “We have only one enemy. They
are Jews. We have no other enemy. I will continue to carry the rifle and pull the
trigger whenever required to defend my people.”
Dressed in his customary black fatigues, he gave a wide grin that was meant to
win over colleagues from the Popular Resistance Committees now under his
command. “This position may transform me into a corrupt person. Your role is
to correct me, to guide me,” he reassured the nervous huddle of supporters
who had waited more than two hours for his arrival.
Brushing aside the local and international condemnation that followed his
appointment, Abu Samhadana said: “We are also a force against corruption. We
are against thieves, corrupt officials and law breakers.”
His allies had feared that he might moderate his stance on Israel after his
elevation. “Our main worry was about whether we would keep up the
resistance with him in such a high-profile position,” one lieutenant admitted.
They were now reassured, he added.
Abu Samhadana’s appointment by the Hamas-led Palestinian government to
head its security forces has forced him to redouble his own security
precautions. He regards his mobile telephone as a “spy”, capable of being
tracked by Israeli intelligence agents who have made two attempts on his life.
The most recent was late last year, when the convoy in which he was
being driven was struck by two missiles, fired from an Israeli attack helicopter.
Now he travels alone, late at night, in cars too old and battered to draw
attention. He never spends more than one night in the same place and he rarely
prays twice in the same mosque.
In recent months, he has directed the continuing barrage of Qassam rockets
fired from Gaza into Israel, guaranteeing that he remains a high-priority target
for Israel. Hours after his appointment, Zeev Boim, Israel’s housing minister,
said Abu Samhadana’s new status conferred no immunity on him.
“We have a long account to settle with this notorious terrorist. Sooner
or later, we will get our hands on him,” he said.
Although Hamas won January’s general election, Fatah still controls the 60,000
strong Palestinian security forces – something which Mahmoud Abbas, the
Fatah leader and moderate president of the Palestinian Authority, tried to
reinforce recently by appointing a loyalist, Rashid Abu Shabak, as security
Hamas responded by appointing Abu Samhadana as their own security chief.
His promotion was announced by the Hamas interior minister, Said Siam, to a
crowd of hundreds at a mosque in Gaza City.
The crowd roared in approval as Mr Siam also announced the creation of
a paramilitary force to tackle violence and chaos on Gaza’s streets.