Arafat Molds Tanzim, al Aqsa Brigades into Private Army of Suicides

Egypt, with quiet American encouragement, is engaged in a complicated diplomatic maneuver to persuade the Hamas to halt its suicide-murder attacks on Israelis by setting up meetings in Cairo between PLO representatives and the Damascus-based leaders of the Hamas: Khaled Mash’al and Abu Marzuk. This initiative comes from officials in the US State Department and European Union, led by Colin Powell and Javier Solana.
debkafile‘s political analysts note that both these officials cling against all odds to their dream of persuading Yasser Arafat to one day give up terror. Their latest ploy addresses the Islamic extremes of the Palestinian movement, the Hamas and the Jihad Islami, the idea being that if they are induced to stop their suicidal terror practices, the Tanzim and al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades run by Arafat’s Fatah will follow suit.
The Damascus officials of the two Islamic groups, who collaborate closely with the Hizballah and the al Qaeda contingent in Lebanon, see no reason to forego the rare honor of a red carpet welcome in Cairo, engineered by no less than the mighty United States and Europe. They also know that any promise to their hosts to desist from suicide massacres will be worthless, given Yasser Arafat’s latest pursuit in the privacy of his Ramallah headquarters.
According to debkafile‘s Palestinian sources, while the Palestinian leader misses no opportunity of pointing to his “reforms”, he is in fact deeply engaged in welding the two deadliest arms of his Fatah, along with the remnants of numerous disbanded security services, into a single force. On the face of it, he is meeting Washington’s demand for a single security force.
But this force is not exactly what the Americans had in mind. Its backbone is composed, in fact, of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, declared a terrorist organization last month by President George W. Bush, and the Tanzim militia. The purpose of the merger is to improve the efficiency of Arafat’s mass-murder machine and tighten its links with the Iraqi military intelligence undercover base in Amman, as well as with Iraqi and Palestinian terror groups in Baghdad,
This new, unified security force is in fact the base of a private army that Arafat has begun to fashion under the noses of the Americans, Israelis, Jordanians and Europeans, for two tactical objectives: One is the more efficiently to escalate the terror campaign against Israel; the second is to maintain a force capable of striking US targets in Israel and Jordan, after the United States launches its war on Iraq.
Some Palestinian leaders have taken fright from Arafat’s army venture, fearing its repercussions for the Palestinian people. Those officials believe Arafat’s expanded terror campaign in mid-war will land West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians on the wrong side of the US-Iraq conflict, destroying all their hopes of a future state.
debkafile‘s Palestinian sources report the battle lines over the future of the al Aqsa Brigades are now drawn between two opposing camps:
1. Arafat and his pro-Iraqi lieutenants who remain holed up in his Ramallah quarters since the Israeli siege earlier this year. The most important is Colonel Tawfik Tirawi, the intelligence chief who is the undeclared commander of the al-Aqsa brigades. Arafat is also supported by two ministers whom he named for his new government lineup last week, Samir Rocha, Minister for Jerusalem and Saddam’s paymaster for the families of suicide killers, and Azzam al Ahmad, Housing Minister and Arafat’s unofficial ambassador to Baghdad.
2. Disapproval of Arafat’s new military venture has made strange bedfellows. On the one hand, the radical Fatah leader and foreign minister, Farouk Kaddoumi, who never set foot in Palestinian areas in protest against the 1993 Oslo Accords; on the other, the moderate Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, who has found acceptance in Washington as a prospective Palestinian prime minister to rival Arafat. Both are furious with Arafat for flouting a decision reached by the Fatah Central Committee and its Revolutionary Council to disband the al Aqsa Brigades. Arafat has ignored the ruling bodies of his own organization and made a mockery of them.
Abu Mazen, a political wheeler and dealer rather than terrorist, privately predicts disaster for the Palestinian people if the Hamas and the al-Aqsa Brigades are not forcibly reined in. But this former official successor to Arafat lacks the muscle to put his wishes into effect and can do nothing, he has told his confidants, until Arafat ceases to be chairman of the Palestinian Authority. Abu Mazen is not prepared for a showdown with Arafat.
A third veteran and long time Arafat loyalist, Sahar Habash, also fears that the al-Aqsa Brigades’ deeds and their manipulation by Iraqi intelligence will drag the Palestinians into the coming war.
For two years, Habash was Arafat’s personal representative in the Intifada Committees that coordinated Fatah terrorist activities with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Now, he has gone over to the anti-Arafat camp led by Kaddoumi and Abu Mazen.
debkafile‘s Palestinian sources say it is payback time for Habash, who was left without a job when Hamas pulled out of the committees and Arafat transferred their budgets to the al-Aqsa Brigades.
The Palestinian interior minister, Hani al-Hassan, appointed by Arafat last week to his new cabinet lineup, is also against empowering the al Aqsa Brigades. But he says there is no hurry to disband them or confront Arafat head-on on the issue and opposes military action to disarm the suicide units – either of the Hamas or the al Aqsa Brigades.
Nablus, known as the main corner of the West Bank Iron Triangle of Suicides, has become the Al Aqsa Brigades’ main bastion. Three terrorist brigades are now based in this northern West Bank city, the wealthiest of all Palestinian towns, and defer to Arafat’s crony, the Governor of Nablus, Mahmoud al-Alul.
Funding for their suicide operations is procured by robbing the city’s rich and its moderate intelligentsia, as well as from Iraqi funds smuggled in from Jordan through the well-developed banking system of Nablus.

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