Besieged Hamas turns on its own
July 31, 2010
The parents of Munir Warshara posing with the weapons their son smuggled into
the Gaza Strip for Hamas. Picture: Jason Socrates Koutsoukis
AT 2AM on July 16 last year, Mohammed Warshara was woken by a phone call from
Hamas, the militant Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip.
''They told me my son had been found in a tunnel in Rafah [the city on Gaza's
border with Egypt],'' Mr Warshara says.
A prominent leader of Hamas's military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades,
Munir Warshara would be 37 if he were alive today.
''They said Munir had been shot by Egyptian border police,'' Mr Warshara says.
''But this was not possible. His body was on the Gaza side of the border.''
Whatever the circumstances of Munir's death, it appears certain he was the
victim of a bitter quarrel within Hamas.
As Hamas strives to maintain its authority over Gaza's 1.5 million residents
three years after winning control of the territory from its main rival Fatah,
Munir's death signals an increasingly violent power struggle within the
movement. Rumours abound of bodies turning up in smugglers' tunnels, their
deaths blamed on ''digging accidents''.
One Hamas insider, speaking to The Age on condition of anonymity, shows a list
identifying more than 20 people who have been killed over the past 12 months.
''They say they die from accidents, but they have clearly died from many
gunshots or they show signs of being beaten and tortured,'' the source says.
According to Mr Warshara, Munir was executed because he disagreed with the way
Hamas was distributing aid money to victims of Israel's Operation Cast Lead
offensive in late 2008 and early 2009.
''Munir wanted the money to be distributed equally to all people who needed
it,'' he says. ''The other Hamas leaders wanted to give the money only to other
members of Hamas, or to keep the money for themselves.''
At his home in Beit Lahiya, he breaks down as he unfurls a banner produced by
Hamas in honour of his son. ''The men who killed my son, they came to his
funeral,'' he says. ''They cried at his funeral, yet they were the ones who
To underline his son's commitment, and his own sense of betrayal, Mr Warshara
produces photographs showing weapons that Munir smuggled into Gaza before his
death. So proud was Mr Warshara of his son that he and other members of the
family posed for photographs with the rocket-propelled grenade launchers,
automatic rifles and hand grenades.
Mr Warshara says he refuses to be intimidated by threats from Hamas leaders:
''I want the world to know what Hamas is doing to people who do not agree with
According to Sayyed Abu Musameh, one of the seven founding members of Hamas and
a member of its ruling council, the movement is divided between doves and hawks.
The doves, or pragmatists, Dr Abu Musameh says, are interested in negotiating
with the Israelis and maintaining the ceasefire that has been in place since
the end of Operation Cast Lead, while the hawks want a return to confrontation.
In this account, the most pragmatic of all is Ismail Haniyeh, the prime
minister of the Hamas authority in Gaza. The hardliners are led by Khaled
Meshaal, chairman of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus, and Mahmoud Zahar,
foreign minister in Mr Haniyeh's government.
Dr Abu Musameh says he has long argued that firing rockets into Israel, or
sending suicide bombers to kill Israeli civilians, is against Hamas's interests.
''I know and respect many Jewish people. I have seen their faces,'' he says.
''But the young people joining the military wings . only know them through the
war and the uprisings. They know Hamas has rearmed itself and they see no
reason for continuing with the ceasefire.''
He discounts claims Hamas is in danger of splitting: ''These tensions have been
present since the very beginning.''
Yet the longer the ceasefire continues, the more men such as Abu Mousab are
being tempted to join more radical Islamist groups operating inside Gaza.
Abu Mousab, now 25, says he joined Hamas while a student but left after
becoming disaffected with its political strategy.
He says a poll was conducted among Qassam brigade members in northern Gaza,
with about 90 per cent of respondents saying they were dissatisfied with the
''The things that made [Fatah] hated in Gaza, these are the things that Hamas
is doing now,'' he says.
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