Pro-Arafat Gunmen to Abbas: Next Time We’ll Shoot to Kill
Some 40 gunmen opened automatic fire in the Arafat mourning tent in Gaza City Sunday night, November 14, shaking up the assembled gathering only two days after Yasser Arafat was buried in Ramallah. Bursting into the tent shortly after the arrival of Mahmoud Abbas, the man Fatah had just nominated to run for Palestinian president, they could easily have killed him and gunned down all the mourners packed in the tent. As it turned out he was unhurt. Two security men were killed and four injured.
debkafile‘s counter-terror sources reports that this was a deliberate ambush. It was set up by the dead leader’s adherents in the Gaza branch of the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. Their actions were programmed with almost ritual precision to convey certain messages to Arafat’s would-be successor.
The key one was: no one can replace Yasser Arafat. Another: we can get close to you any time we choose. Next time, we won’t fire over your head, but shoot to kill. Above all, take care to choose the right associates. Stay away from Mohammed Dahlan and Ahmed Qureia!
Mohammed Dahlan, former Gaza strongman and enemy of the Arafat clan, had organized security for Abu Mazen’s visit to the mourning tent. Already campaigning for election, Abu Mazen had planned some quiet lobbying and base-touching while he was there. The assailants surrounded the two men firing their A-47s in the air to show Abbas the futility of relying on Dahlan and his security arrangements. As a further gesture of contempt, they killed two of Dahlan’s bodyguards – and no one else.
Abu Mazen found himself without protection for the second time in three days. There was nothing between him and a bullet on both occasions. The first time was on Friday, November 12, when he landed in Ramallah aboard one of the Egyptian helicopters carrying Arafat’s coffin from Cairo. Then, the mourning party led by himself and dignitaries come to pay their respects and the coffin itself could not disembark for more than an hour because it was hemmed in by a hysterical Palestinian mob.
Abbas understands that the messages the late Arafat’s heavies conveyed to him in Gaza will have registered also in Washington, Cairo and Jerusalem. They will realize that his own Fatah is incapable of looking after the safety of Arafat’s would-be successors. The two-month election campaign could well degenerate from a controlled democratic process to factional warfare. And who can tell which contender will end up at the finishing line on January 9?
The masked gunmen in the mourning tent were clear about their preferences. They shouted: “No to Abu Mazen!” and “No to Dahlan!” but also “Arafat lives!”
This was a threat to any would-be leader who dared turn away from the dead Arafat’s chosen path of terror and war.
Our Palestinian sources report that, earlier in the day, Dahlan had sought to place the Gaza-based Presidential guard, Force 17, in charge of overall security for the mourners’ tent and the Palestinian dignitaries gathering there that evening. He was snubbed by the chiefs of all the local security, intelligence and terrorist groups, including Hamas, Jihad Islami and the Popular Resistance Committees, the umbrella for Gaza’s al Aqsa Brigades. Each chief insisted on his personal bodyguards accompanying him into the tent, with no coordination among them. Mussa Arafat, for instance, is never seen without his 60-70 bodyguards; Gaza Strip general intelligence chief Mohammed Hindi employs between 40 and 50.
Notwithstanding these armies of protectors, a hostile band of gunmen managed to break into the tent, keep up a 10-minute barrage of automatic fire and make a clean getaway. Palestinian sources agree that this brazen demonstration of strength and clean escape could not have been carried off without the connivance of most of the faction chiefs present – which bodes ill for Abu Mazen’s chances of gaining Gaza Strip support for his bid for the presidency.
He seems to be so unpopular in Gaza that its faction chiefs were willing to chance his not coming out of the episode alive.
The attackers consisted of al Aqsa Brigades terrorists and Mussa Arafat’s men. Friday, at Arafat’s funeral in Ramallah, Dahlan, possibly with a quiet wink from Abu Mazen, ascertained that Mussa Arafat, the dead leader’s kinsman would be ignored by the visiting dignitaries, none of whom approached him with condolences. The next day he was also left out in the cold at graveside ceremonies Abbas organized. Mussa Arafat left Ramallah in high dudgeon and returned to Gaza to organize the fake attack to punish his tormenters when they came to Gaza.
To some Palestinian circles, Abu Mazen seems to be moving too fast, considering that he has never had a broad following in the Palestinian street. He is criticized, for example, for occupying Arafat’s seat at the head of the cabinet table on Sunday, only two days into the mourning period. Setting the election date for January 9 is too soon given the weighty tasks ahead of the presidential nominee. He has left himself no more than 55 days to campaign for election and bring off three important feats: to get elected, arrange a temporary unilateral ceasefire declaration by 13 PLO factions as well as Hamas and Jihad Islami, with the help of Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, and prevent Ariel Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan from taking off.