Suicide raids called `God's cause'


Palestinians: An Israeli attack on a terrorist cell focuses attention on a possible return to suicide bombings and revives questions about Islamic martyrdom.

March 08, 2000|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- A voice over a loudspeaker proclaimed "a new hero," whose soul has gone to heaven, as men filed into the blue tent stretched across a narrow street in the Al Shatti refugee camp.

It was the final day of mourning for Nayil Abu Awad, 24, a recent college graduate who was reported to have been among four men killed Thursday in a raid by Israeli police on a terrorist cell suspected of plotting suicide bomb attacks in Israel.

The Hamas cell's suspected plot was the second of its kind uncovered within a month, signaling a possible revival of the sort of suicide blasts that traumatized Israel in 1996, derailing the peace process and contributing to the defeat of a Labor-led government.

It underscored evidence that Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, is recruiting promising Palestinian students, not only as activists but also as killers in a war of terror against the Israeli public.

And it revived baffling questions about the power of a religious ideology that would turn young men into human explosives.

Authorities won't officially confirm the names of the four men killed, and Abu Awad's family says it hasn't received his body for burial.

Embraced as martyr

But family members accept that leaks to the Israeli news media about Abu Awad's death are probably true, and Hamas has publicly embraced him as a martyr to the cause. Certainly, he has not been seen in the almost two weeks since he left Gaza.

A green Land Rover carried Hamas' quadriplegic spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, to pay his respects Monday at the blue tent, where young boys made the rounds of older men seated along a row of plastic chairs, offering coffee and dates.

At 1 p.m., the men joined in one of the final mourning rituals, a lunch of herbed rice and chunks of tender lamb piled into large stainless steel communal bowls.

Abu Awad's father, Yassin Mohammed Abu Awad, 54, rose from his seat to greet new arrivals. Blinded by shrapnel at age 2 during an air raid on his village near Ashkelon, now part of Israel, he grew up and raised his nine children among tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Gaza. A neighborhood leader, he works at a United Nations-funded agency for the blind in Gaza.

Family members say Abu Awad had graduated in business administration from Islamic University a Hamas stronghold in Gaza City, 15 days earlier and soon afterward left Gaza for the first time. He called to tell them that he was in Nablus, a West Bank city, and would check out graduate programs at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah.

His father hoped that his son would get a grant to study in the United States. The next thing the father knew, journalists arrived at his home with word that Nayil had been killed in a daylong siege at the terrorist cell's rented house in Taibe, near Tel Aviv.

"I had no idea that he was committed to Hamas," the father said, describing Nayil as a quiet, respectful problem-solver. The elder Abu Awad said he kept his sons inside during the violent days of the intifada, the Palestinian uprising of the late 1980s.

It takes little prodding to elicit from the father and other family members Palestinian grievances against Israel that appear commonly in the local news media.

U.S. `interference' sought

"Why do the Israelis have everything and I don't have anything? Why do they sign a peace agreement and not respect it?" Abu Awad asks. "I ask for the interference of the government of the United States to commit Israel to respect what they have signed already.

"The third redeployment should have been completed long ago," he said, referring to a negotiated Israeli pullback from the West Bank. "They should have started final-status negotiations."

The father said he opposes attacks on civilians. "I believe in good and honest peace," he said.

But he added, "I'm against them killing our civilians. If they stop, the other side will stop, too."

Hamas ideology doesn't categorize most Israelis as civilians, said Ismail Abu Shanab, a Hamas leader and local engineer.

All Israelis are expected to perform military service and return for reserve duty after discharge, he noted, and the occupied territories are a major field of operations. The only people Abu Shanab would exempt from the military category are children and the elderly.

"The Israeli settler puts his family in danger," he said during an interview at his home in Gaza City.

Neither Israel nor the United States has the right to insist that the Palestinians eschew violence while Israel continues to occupy their land, he said, adding, "The whole of history is made by those who are powerful on their land."

Hezbollah envied

Abu Shanab indicated that Hamas members envy the success of Hezbollah, whose repeated deadly attacks on Israeli soldiers have driven Israel to announce its withdrawal from South Lebanon.

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