Islamic Extremists : Hamas -
Islamic Extremists : Hamas
Goal: An Islamic-ruled Middle East in which the Jewish state of Israel would be eliminated. Jews would be permitted to live in the Islamic nation as protected residents. In recent years, Hamas leaders have said they would consider a truce if Israel pulls out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Methods: Since it was founded in 1987, Hamas has dispatched its believers to kill hundreds of Israeli civilians and soldiers with suicide bombings, remote-controlled bombs and gun attacks. Hamas suicide bombers have played a prominent role in the current conflict.
Structure: Hamas leaders say the organization is divided into two separate parts: the military wing, called Izzedine al-Qassam, an underground movement responsible for attacks; and the political wing, in charge of Hamas public activity. The U.S. government has declared Hamas a terrorist organization and Israel says there is no difference between the two wings.
Response: In 35 months of fighting, Israel repeatedly targeted leaders of Izzedine al-Qassam, but largely left the group's politicians alone. Ismail Abu Shanab, a Hamas spokesman killed in an Israeli missile strike Thursday, was the third member of Hamas' political wing to be killed in the past two years.
Support: Funding comes through contributions from the Arab world and Muslims elsewhere, including the United States. In Palestinian areas, especially in Gaza, Hamas has solidified its position by establishing social services, including kindergartens and schools.
Founder: Sheik Ahmed Yassin, recognized as the Hamas spiritual leader. A quadriplegic since a childhood accident, Yassin inspires Hamas members with Islamic preaching. Imprisoned by Israel, he was released in 1997 as part of a deal that followed an abortive Israeli attempt to kill a Hamas operative in Jordan, Khaled Mashaal.
Source: A Look at Islamic Militant Group Hamas, Associated Press, Aug. 21, 2002
Hamas, the main Islamist movement in the Palestinian territories, was born soon after the previous intifada erupted in 1987.
The organisation opposes the Oslo peace process and its short-term aim is a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories.
Hamas does not recognise the right of Israel to exist. Its long-term aim is to establish an Islamic state on land originally mandated as Palestine - most of which has been contained within Israel's borders since its creation in 1948.
The grass-roots organisation - with a political and a military wing - has an unknown number of hard-core members but tens of thousands of supporters and sympathisers.
It has two main functions:
Yasser Arafat's Palestinain Authority (PA) - the government-in-waiting if a Palestinian state is established - views Hamas as a serious rival, yet the Palestinian leader has tried to co-opt the movement into mainstream politics.
But his insistence that Hamas recognise the PA as the only national authority in the Palestinian territories and cease military operations against Israel has been resisted.
Hamas argues that to accept the PA would be to recognise the Oslo accords - which Islamist groups saw as nothing more than a security deal between the PA, Israel and the US, with the ultimate aim of wiping them out.
Despite a fierce offensive against the group in 1996, when the PA arrested some 1,000 Palestinians and took over mosques in Gaza, the PA has been careful not to drive Hamas underground.
There were concerns this could breed violence that could provoke a collective repression against the Palestinians, which has been inflicted by Israel in the past.
Also, Mr Arafat would not want to be seen to be doing Israel's bidding by trying to destroy Hamas.
The leadership of the organisation has long been divided, with some emphasising Hamas' eventual absorption into the political scene as a legitimate opposition party.
After the 1996 clampdown, more moderate Hamas policymakers questioned whether the suicide attacks were worth the cost of repression.
But others argued the military wing was necessary to protect the organisation against such repression.
As a result, the movement's leaders have tried, with little success, to get their followers to agree on a policy calling for military reprisals to what they would perceive as Israeli aggression but accepting coexistence with the PA.
The spiritual head of the group is Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, who despite his often fiery rhetoric is seen as the moderate face of the Palestinian Islamists.
The 64-year-old quadriplegic was released from prison in Israel in 1997, as King Hussein of Jordan's price for freeing Israeli Mossad agents after a bungled attempt to assassinate Hamas leader in Jordan, Khaled Meshal.
Who are Hamas? BBC, Oct. 19, 2000
Hamas Brief overview, by the Terrorism Research Center
HAMAS (Islamic Resistance Movement) Patterns of Global Terrorism, 2000. United States Department of State, April 2001.
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