The purpose of the post-midnight raid on Monday was, as Amos Harel of the Ha’aretz newspaper put it, “to reap some last-minute (Palestinian) fruits” before the conclusion of a possible truce or cease-fire between the Israeli occupation army and Palestinian resistance groups.
The main target of the raid was Salih Talahmah, a veteran Hamas leader in the West Bank. Two more Palestinians were killed in the 16-hour raid: Sayyid Abd al-Karim al-Shaikh, a fellow Hamas fighter, and six-year-old Mauayad Mazin Hamdan.
Hamas sources described Talahmah as “one of the most, if not the most, brilliant Islamist guerilla leader after Yahya Ayyash”.
Ayyash, widely known as the “engineer,” had masterminded several deadly attacks on Israeli targets before he was finally assassinated by a Shin Beth agent in Gaza in 1995.
School girls bid their last farewell
Ayyash, Talahmah and other prominent guerilla leaders were studying at Beir Zit University in the early and mid 1990s when they formed the so-called “Beir-Zeit cell”.
The cell, made up of mainly engineering students, was a constant headache to the Israeli (and Palestinian) security apparatus for much of the 1990s, especially following the signing of the Oslo Accords and establishment of the Palestinian Authority.
Cell members, a dozen of them, were constantly hounded by the PA security agencies, particularly the Preventive Security Force (PSF).
Eventually, Talahmah was arrested by the PSF and subjected to harsh interrogation in Ram Allah and Hebron for several months.
“They tortured him mercilessly to the point of near death,” said Yousef Talahmeh, a relative who visited him while in PA custody prior to the al-Aqsa intifada.
“They tortured him mercilessly to the point of near death”
Yusuf Talahmah, a relative
In 1998, the Israeli Shin Beth described Talahmah in a secret memo as “a master of disguise who would always succeed in eluding capture and assassination”.
A former Palestinian intelligence officer said Talahmah had at one point assumed eight different identities. “He would perfectly speak several different dialects in order to disguise himself as another person,” said the officer, who asked for anonymity.
The precautionary tactics fooled Israeli intelligence for more than eight years, enabling Talahmah to plan and oversee several attacks on mainly Israeli military targets, including the killing of three soldiers outside Ram Allah last month.
It is not known if he was personally involved in that attack, but Israeli army sources say he is responsible for the death of many Israeli soldiers and settlers.
According to Talahmah’s relatives, he called his family on the second day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday using a mobile phone.
The Israeli army has assassinated
It is speculated that the Shin Beth was able to locate him by electronic eavesdropping.
Unlike some flamboyant Palestinian Authority operatives who usually have fancy homes and cars, Talahmah led a simple life in the small village of al-Burj, 25km west of Hebron, in the south-western section of the West Bank.
On Tuesday, when Talahmah’s badly mutilated body was laid to rest next to his father who died 18 months ago, multitudes of people converged to pay homage to the “martyr of al-Burj and Palestine”.
“Salih is not only the son of the Talahmah clan, he is the son of the entire Palestinian people, he is a source of pride and dignity for all of us”
The massive funeral procession proved the popularity of Hamas, and Palestinian resistance in general, among Palestinians, particularly in the rural areas of the West Bank.
“Salih is not only the son of the Talahmah clan, he is the son of the entire Palestinian people, he is a source of pride and dignity for all of us,” said a mourner.
In a final show of respect, the youth of the village decided to name the village’s new large mosque after Talahmah. Not a single person opposed the decision.