Gaza wonders how PLO will govern Biggest threat to Mideast accord is opposition of extremist groups

September 17, 1993|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

BEIT LAHIA, Israeli-Occupied Gaza Strip -- Beneath a poster of a bloody dagger, Mohammed Mahmoud Tantawi said yesterday that the violence against Israel will not end. If a new Palestinian government intervenes, he said, smiling, "We welcome a fight with them, too."

The biggest threat to the autonomy plan reached between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization is violence from men like Mr. Tantawi, one of about 1,000 who chanted against Israel and the PLO at a rally yesterday by the Islamic Jihad opposition group.

Yesterday, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat urged a summit conference in Yemen with all opposition groups to avoid civil war when Israel turns over the Gaza Strip to Palestinian control in three months.

Hamas, the largest opposition group inside the occupied territories, has apparently already made the pledge. A PLO official in Gaza confirmed that Hamas gave its agreement yesterday morning not to fight the PLO. In Tunis, the PLO released an agreement signed by Hamas and the PLO to respect a "code of honor" not to fight.

In recent interviews, Hamas supporters in the Gaza Strip acknowledged that they have lost much public support and conceded that opposition could be crushed by the most powerful PLO faction, Fatah.

Some ready to fight

But there are other splinter groups and rebels against the mainstream who are ready to fight against the new agreement, whether that fight is against Israelis or the PLO. They say they will not stop attacks against Israeli targets.

"The intifada is not over," said Mr. Tantawi, a former policeman in Gaza. "It will continue until we get our territories back."

Three Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip were killed in an ambush Sunday, and a bus driver was knifed to death. Later in the week, two suicide attackers -- a rare tactic in the intifada -- blew up only themselves in failed attempts to kill Israelis.

Those attacks were linked to Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and the Israeli public reacted with apparent understanding. But "all it will take is for some mad bomber to kill a couple dozen people in Tel Aviv and the Israeli mood will swing against this [agreement]," said a worried Jewish supporter.

Old opponents of Mr. Arafat -- Nayef Hawatmeh of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and George Habash of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- have been clamoring this week for such an event. Yesterday, they were joined by the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the spiritual leader of Iran, who is considered to have influence over Islamic groups. He promised that "Palestinian fists will keep hitting the heads of usurpers."

Such outside voices have only a muted effect inside the occupied territories. But Mr. Arafat does have to worry that his peacekeeping moves do not outpace his supporters, who are accustomed to decades of avowed resistance to Israel.

Mr. Arafat has hinted -- but not openly said -- that the intifada will continue until Israeli troops completely vacate the West Bank. Total withdrawal is not contemplated under the agreement for at least five years -- if at all.

Since Mr. Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the accord in Washington on Monday, both have been trying to cushion the public for further acts of violence.

In the letters of mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO signed last Friday, Mr. Arafat said the PLO "renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence, and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel to assure their compliance."

Gaza's fissures

But the Gaza Strip is a politically fractured place, and groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not members of the PLO.

Many young men know nothing but bitterness toward Israel, which they blame for the 1948 war that chased hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, and for the harsh occupation since 1967 of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

At the Islamic Jihad rally, on a dusty dead-end of a housing project, speakers railed against the autonomy agreement yesterday, talking to hundreds of men, most of them wearing the beards and white gowns favored by fundamentalist Muslims.

Perhaps more surprising are those who are willing to set such rhetoric aside. At the PLO office in Gaza, director Sami Abu Samhadana sat at the head of a conference table ringed by men with full ashtrays and empty coffee cups.

He talked of a peace agreement with Hamas and support for the Israeli accord. His words did not betray that nine of his 31 years have been spent in Israeli prisons. He was released from his 12th incarceration nine months ago.

His words were echoed nearby at the Islamic University, normally a center for hard-line Hamas activism.

"We will oppose the pact with our tongues only," said Majdi Akeel, a lecturer. "Using force, machine guns, we will refuse. If the Fatah police use force against us, we will be silent. I think there will not be killing."

Outside a mosque, Rayed Musba Zakud, 25, received the

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