Vol. 5, No. 24 May 17, 2006
Said Sayyam, the Palestinian interior minister in the Hamas government, has appointed the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, Jamal Abu Samhadana, to be in charge of building the core of a new Palestinian army. Formally, he will be under the overall supervision of the Interior Ministry.
The Popular Resistance Committees is a terror organization that has carried out hundreds of attacks against Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip and within Israel, and was apparently responsible for the roadside bomb attack in which three American security guards were killed in Gaza in October 2003.
The PRC, which espouses an extreme Islamic worldview, has formed a strategic alliance with Hamas and Hizballah, which help finance its activities and train its operatives. According to Israeli intelligence, the PRC also maintains contact with al-Qaeda, which over the past year has created a presence in Gaza and the West Bank.
Israel is acting militarily against the PRC as it does toward other Palestinian terror organizations. At the same time, the PRC is not included in Israel’s official list of terror organizations. This may stem from the mistaken assumption that the PRC is part of the military wing of Fatah. The United States and the European Union also did not include the PRC in their blacklist of terror organizations.
The Core of a Future Palestinian Army
On 20 April 2006, the Palestinian minister of the interior and of national security, Said Sayyam, appointed Jamal Abu Samhadana (Abu Atayah), head of the Popular Resistance Committees, as general supervisor of the ministry, a position equivalent to that of director-general.1 Abu Samhadana is supposed to be responsible for setting up a new security apparatus that will absorb operatives from the military wings of the Palestinian terror organizations.
A day after the appointment, which drew condemnation in the United States and Israel, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen, announced the cancellation of the appointment on the ground that it “contravenes the constitution.” Abu Mazen’s decree also canceled the decision by the Palestinian government to set up a new security force to combat anarchy within the PA and stated that “all the security commanders, officers, and members of the security services are ordered to regard these two orders as if they were never given.”2
Abu Mazen’s decision caused consternation in Hamas, which intensified its public attacks on him, on Fatah, and on past leaders of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zouhri remarked that “the decision of the interior minister is meant to remedy the security situation and address the security anarchy, and any derogation of this decision means continuing the security anarchy, damaging the Palestinian government’s authority, and negating its ability to end the security anarchy in the Authority.”3
Abu Samhadana told the British Sunday Telegraph on 23 April that the security force to be established under his command was “the core of the future Palestinian army,” stressing that “resistance must continue.” “We have only one enemy and that is the Jews,” he said. The security force will also act against corruption and lawbreakers, he claimed.4
Founding of the PRC
The appointment of Abu Samhadana to the most important executive security position in the Palestinian Authority focuses attention on the Popular Resistance Committees, at whose head he stands, and which in recent years has become one of the prominent Palestinian terror organizations. The PRC was established by Abu Samhadana after the uprising which began at the end of September 2000, as he sought a new operational framework through which to conduct the “armed struggle” against Israel. Abu Samhadana gathered former officers and troops from the PA security forces, as well as operatives from Fatah, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front, and other organizations. The name that was chosen – Popular Resistance Committees – expressed the concept of the organization’s founders that the struggle against Israel should be waged by a military force combining all the organizations.5
Extreme Islamic Ideology
The ideology of the Popular Resistance Committees rests on an extreme Islamic worldview that puts it in the same category as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and al-Qaeda. Islam is regarded as a solution and remedy for all the problems of the Palestinian people. PRC leaders vehemently reject any political dialogue with Israel, let alone the political and security agreements that have been signed with it. The road map is considered an “American-Zionist plot” to salvage the “Zionist enemy,” “to kill the resistance and dismantle its infrastructure.”6
The leadership of the Popular Resistance Committees views “resistance in all its forms” and “jihad in the way of Allah” as the only ways to liberate all of Palestine, “whose land, whose mountains, the holy places in it, the skies, the sea, and the political borders are part of the [Islamic] faith.” Abu Samhadana regards Jews as “enemies,” “betrayers,” and “murderers of the prophets who also tried to murder the Prophet Mohammed.” The official declarations of the Popular Resistance Committees sometimes refer to Jews as “the sons of monkeys and pigs” and to Israel as “a Satanic entity that must be destroyed.”7 The leader of the Popular Resistance Committees favors opening the borders of the Arab states to a jihad against Israel until its total destruction.8
Hizballah is considered a model and a paradigm for waging the struggle against Israel. Abu Samhadana remarked in an interview that “Hizballah’s great victory” in southern Lebanon strengthened the belief that the path of resistance succeeds. He views Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria as a direct outcome of the determination of the resistance forces.9
The PRC’s ideological closeness to Hamas is also manifested in a strategic alliance, which in recent years has also included close practical cooperation. The PRC supported Hamas’ demand to hold the elections for the Palestinian parliament on the date they were held, and favored its approach of finding formal religious justifications for participating in the elections. During the election campaign, the PRC stood shoulder to shoulder with Hamas, and its activists aided the propaganda effort for Hamas’ Change and Reform list.10
Terror Attacks Against Israeli Targets
The Popular Resistance Committees has carried out numerous terror attacks against Israeli civilian and military targets since October 2000. The most notable include:
- Firing at a bus carrying workers of the Airports Authority in the area of the Rafah Terminal. Eight Israelis wounded (8 October 2000).
- Shooting attacks at Kfar Darom. Baha Said, a junior officer in the Preventive Security forces and a member of the Popular Resistance Committees, infiltrated Kfar Darom in Gaza to carry out a mass terror attack. One IDF soldier was killed and two others were wounded (18 November 2000).
- A roadside bomb attack on a children’s bus next to Kfar Darom. Two killed (20 November 2000).
- Firing at an Israeli vehicle on the Kerem Shalom-Rafah Terminal route. An Israeli woman killed (8 November 2000).
- Two terrorists killed five members of the Hatuel family at close range after attacking their car on the Kisufim route. The victims were Tali Hatuel (in her eighth month of pregnancy) and her four daughters, including a two-year-old (2 May 2004).
- Firing at an Israeli vehicle on the Kisufim route. Two killed (24 July 2005).
- Deadly attacks with powerful roadside bombs against Merkava tanks in which seven IDF soldiers were killed (14 February, 14 March, 5 September 2002).
- An infiltration attack on an IDF position at Morag. Three soldiers killed, one wounded (26 September 2004).11
Since its founding, the PRC has carried out hundreds of light-weapon and machinegun attacks, and fired antitank rockets, grenades, mortars, and Nasser rockets (similar to the Kassam) at Israeli settlements in Gaza and within Israel. This activity did not stop after the IDF withdrawal and the evacuation of the Israeli settlements from Gaza. In the period from 1 January 2006 to 26 March 2006, the Popular Resistance Committees fired, independently and in cooperation with other organizations, 83 rockets at Israeli targets, two antitank rockets (RPGs), perpetrated two roadside bomb attacks, and carried out a shooting and suicide attack at the Erez crossing (9 February 2006).12 On 26 April 2006, a terrorist group from the PRC attempted to perpetrate a shooting attack combined with the detonation of a car bomb at the Karni crossing. The attack was thwarted by the Palestinian Preventive Security forces.13
An Attack on an American Target
The PRC was apparently responsible for detonating the charge against an American convoy at Beit Hanun in northern Gaza on 15 October 2003 that killed three American security guards as they were escorting the American cultural attache. Four PRC operatives – Naim Abu al-Ful, Bashir Abu al-Luban, Muhammad al-Dasuki Kamel Hamad (Asliyah), and Ahmad Abd al-Fatah al-Safi – who were arrested immediately after the attack, “escaped” from the Palestinian prison. The Palestinian Authority has yet to complete its investigation of the attack, despite American pressure.14 The PRC officially denied any responsibility for the attack.
Despite the fact that senior PRC figures have served in the Palestinian security organizations, the group’s attitude toward the previous Palestinian establishment is suspicious and hostile. PRC members did not accept the political line of the Palestinian Authority, and its operatives mistrust the PA security services for arresting some of them for lengthy periods because of actions that were perpetrated or planned against Israel.
Moreover, its strategic alliance with Hamas, together with the opportunity to become a major military force on the national level, has led the PRC to intensify clashes with representatives of the previous regime. In July 2004, PRC operatives kidnapped police commander Razi Jebali, interrogated him about acts of corruption, and demanded in return for his release that all corrupt establishment figures be fired.15
In September 2005, PRC operatives murdered Mousa Arafat, the head of Military Intelligence, who was accused of corruption and of cooperation with Israel.16 The PRC also demanded the firing of Interior Minister Nasser Yusuf because of his attempt to impose law and order, and accused Muhammed Dahlan and the Preventive Security forces of “polluting the honor of the rifle and the resistance.”17
In April 2006, the PRC intensified its direct confrontation with Preventive Security and accused its past and present heads, Muhammed Dahlan and Rashid Abu Shubak, of helping Israel to target the head of the PRC’s military wing, Al-Abed Qoqa. The PRC announced the establishment of a special unit to assassinate Dahlan, Abu Shubak, and Samir Mashrahawi.18
Building a Terror Infrastructure in the West Bank
The IDF’s withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005 gave renewed momentum to PRC efforts to create an operational infrastructure in the West Bank as well, in order to set up a parallel network of weapon and rocket production that would enable attacks on cities in central Israel.19
In October 2005, Israeli security forces arrested several senior PRC operatives who were on their way from Gaza, via Sinai, to Jenin in the northern West Bank to set up weapons-production facilities for rockets and mortars. The group was sent by Jamal Abu Samhadana and Al-Abed Qoqa.20
Cooperation with Other Terror Organizations
The PRC maintains an ongoing operational connection with other Palestinian terror groups that includes exchange of information and joint attacks. Its connections with Hamas appear to be much tighter than with any other terror organization.21 Israeli intelligence claims that Hamas is actually using the PRC as a subcontractor to carry out terror attacks against Israel. PRC operatives arrested by Israel said during their interrogations that its members were brought to a Hamas representative in their region after recruitment and swore an oath before him. Furthermore, Hamas claims to play a major role in the military training of PRC operatives.22
Some PRC members were sent to Lebanon (via Egypt) to undergo military training. The PRC infrastructure in Egypt serves as an important link in arranging passage between Gaza and Lebanon.23
Intelligence sources in Israel say there is a link between the PRC and al-Qaeda, though the PRC has publicly denied these claims. According to the indictment in Israel of PRC operative Nahad Rashid Ahmed Atala, during his stay in Egypt in August 2000 he made contact with Samih Razak, who told him he was a member of a responsible body (known as “Abu Dia”) in an organization “larger than Hizballah” that was interested in financially assisting the activities of the PRC. This may be al-Qaeda.24
In his last interview before being killed in a car-bomb explosion in Gaza, the commander of the military wing of the PRC, Al-Abed Qoqa, admitted that the organization receives economic assistance from Hamas comparable to “six or seven additional units of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades [of Fatah].”25 One PRC member, Sharif Ziada, arrested in Israel in October 2005, said during his interrogation that Hamas paid $15,000 for a PRC attack and also supplies weapons. Ziada also disclosed that the PRC had transferred $5,000, which originated with Hamas, to an operative in the West Bank who requested funding for an explosives belt.26
Hizballah is an additional source of funding for PRC actions. In some cases, aid was sent in monetary transfers of relatively small sums ($300) to relatives of PRC operatives.27
International Attitudes toward the PRC
Israel acts against the PRC as it does toward other Palestinian terror organizations. Nevertheless, the PRC is not included in Israel’s official list of terror organizations. This may stem from the mistaken assumption that the PRC is part of the military wing of Fatah.28 The United States and the European Union also did not include the PRC in their blacklist of terror organizations.
Who’s Who in the PRC
Jamal Atayah Zid Abu Samhadana, founder and head of the Popular Resistance Committees. Born in 1963, resident of Rafah, formerly imprisoned, married and father of five. In 1982 he fled from Gaza to Egypt, and returned in 1994. Belonged in the past to Fatah. In 2000, as the current confrontation was beginning, he established the Popular Resistance Committees. Responsible for a large number of deadly attacks against Israeli targets and for firing mortars and Kassam rockets at Gush Katif and at Israel.
Al-Abed Yusuf al-Abed Qoqa, head of the Popular Resistance Committees in the northern Gaza Strip. Born in 1962, resident of Gaza, married and father of six. Belonged in the past to Hamas and served as an officer in the PA security organizations. Responsible for weapons production in the PRC including rocket production. Involved in a number of deadly attacks, including roadside bombs against IDF tanks and rocket fire. Killed in a car-bomb explosion in April 2006.
Muhammad Abd al-A’al (Abu Abir) – official spokesman of the Popular Resistance Committees.
Amar Qarmot – senior operative. Involved in terror attacks against Israel.
Muhammad Kamal al-Baba – senior operative. Joined the Popular Resistance Committees after being a member of Fatah and, subsequently, Hamas.
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1. http://www.maannews.net/ar/do.php?name=News&file=article&sid=25679; http://www.alburaq.net/news/show.cfm?val=7351523/04/2006; http://www.islamonline.net/livedialogue/arabic/Browse.asp?hGuestID=3R74U5; http://www.paltoday.com/arabic/news.php?id=20651
4. Sunday Telegraph (UK), April 23, 2006.
5. http://www.islamonline.net/Arabic/politics/2003/02/article08.shtml; http://palestinianforum.net/forum/showthread.php?t=4048
8. http://www.islamonline.net/livedialogue/arabic/Browse.asp?hGuestID=3R74U5&hCounter=15; http://www.islamonline.net/livedialogue/arabic/Browse.asp?hGuestID=3R74U5
16. http://www.alnor1.com/index.php?showtopic=1542; http://www.paltoday.com/arabic/news.php?id=20690
17. http://www.paltoday.com/arabic/news.php?id=18818; http://palintefada.com/arabic/modules.php?name=News_intefada&file=details&id=4510
19. http://paltoday.com/arabic/news.php?id=19895; http://www.palintefada.com/arabic/modules.php?name=News_intefada&file=details&id=4011
23. See indictments filed in Israeli military court against Mohammed Jihad Mohammed Mohammed (ID: 800052748), Nahed Rashid Ahmed Attallah (ID: 925835449), and Shadi Mohammed Jadallah Abu Al-Hassin (ID: 031200058).
24. Ibid., http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3246889,00.html
27. See indictment filed in Israeli military court against Shadi Mohammed Jadallah Abu Al-Hassin (ID: 031200058).
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Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. and is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.