Palestinian fighters challenge Abbas

Palestinian resistance fighters are preparing to battle leader Mahmud Abbas should he take his condemnation of violence a step further and begin a clampdown on anti-Israeli attacks.

    Abbas has vowed to seek a mutual ceasefire with Israel

    In his inauguration speech on Saturday, Palestinian President Abbas vowed to seek a mutual ceasefire with Israel to end the vicious circle of violence.

    Palestinian attacks "do not help bring about the calm needed to enable a credible, serious peace process", he said. 

    Abbas, also known as Abu Mazin, is under pressure from Israel to institute a formal crackdown on resistance groups such as those behind an attack on a border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel in which six Israelis were killed on Thursday. 

    He is to meet with prominent resistance groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad on Monday in the hope of winning their agreement for a ceasefire with Israel - a move both groups have said they oppose. 

    'We will fight him'

    Hardened fighters who weave through life eluding Israeli assassination or capture, say they are prepared to work with Abbas after his swearing in, but not if he turns into a tool of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

    Armed groups have increased
    during the last four years

    "We will fight him if he even so much as thinks about fighting against the resistance and helping Sharon," said Abu Hafsa, a leader in Hamas' armed wing, sheltering in a Gaza safe house. 

    The battle lines were drawn up when long-time moderate Abbas used his election campaign to repeatedly rebuke fighters for launching rocket attacks against Israel and blindly fanning the flames of violence. 

    "This fight will continue forever," added the unemployed 30-year-old who was recruited into the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades at the early age of 14. 

    On Sunday, two homemade Qassam rockets landed in an open field near the Jewish town of Sderot, injuring no one.

    'Assault on resistance'

    Fighters castigated Abbas for what they saw as an unwarranted assault on the sanctity of resistance and the most effective weapon in their arsenal. 

    Fighters with years of experience firing rockets say they have netted the largest victory of the Palestinian struggle, namely Sharon's plan to haul Israeli settlers and troops out of Gaza within 12 months. 

    "It will be the biggest victory and it won't be the last. It has merely increased our ambition to liberate more places," said Abu Hafsa. 

    "Ninety per cent of Palestinians killed are not militants but women, children and the elderly"

    Abu Harun, Fatah

    While Israel has managed to limit attacks and weapons smuggling, it has been unable to stop rocket attacks on illegal settlements.

    Unlike settlement infiltration operations, in which fighters have little to no chance of making it back alive, rocket attacks result in no loss of life on the Palestinian side.

    "Ninety per cent of Palestinians killed are not [fighters] but women, children and the elderly. The difference is that we do not target children, but the Israeli snipers do," said Abu Harun, from an armed offshoot of Abbas' Fatah party. 

    'Sacrifices' needed

    A member of the Abu al-Rih Brigades, Abu Harun, was 10 when he was blinded in the left eye by an Israeli sniper as he walked home from school. 

    "Everybody who wants freedom should make sacrifices. Algeria, Egypt and Vietnam did not liberate themselves through negotiation. It was the military aspect that forced the hand," he said, sipping coffee along Gaza City's dilapidated seafront. 

    "We launch rockets and mortars at Israel and settlements daily and we are planning attacks as we speak," he said, dismissing talk of a truce as "too early". 

    Armed factions have mushroomed during the past four years of the al-Aqsa Intifada and it will be a daunting task to persuade them to lay down arms, although both Hamas and the al-Rish Brigades agreed to a seven-week truce brokered by Abbas in 2003. 

    "Hamas is not seriously thinking about a truce now, but if Abu Mazin asks for a hudna [truce], if it is in the Palestinian interest and there is no manipulation behind the scenes, we will not hesitate to agree," said Abu Hafsa, who sees Abbas as pro-Israeli. 



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