Bomber killed in Hamas feud, say Palestinians

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The Independent Online
IN AN abrupt reversal of their previous view, Palestinian security officials now say Muhyideen al-Sharif, the bomb-maker of Hamas, the Islamic militant organisation, was killed by his own side following an argument over tactics and money.

A senior Palestinian official said five members of Hamas had been arrested, adding: "All the detainees are in the custody of the Preventive Security [the Palestinian internal security force]. The man we have has confessed to preparing the explosives which blew up the car and Muhyideen al-Sharif after he was shot."

This is the third time Palestinian security has changed its story in a week and many Palestinians will continue to believe Mr Sharif was assassinated by Israeli agents. Nevertheless, Palestinian officials now seem confident that they know what happened. They said large quantities of arms and explosives had also been found.

It is unclear if the arrests will prevent Hamas launching revenge attacks against Israeli targets, as it has promised to do. Hamas officials say they are conducting their own inquiry.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, says Israel will hold Yasser Arafat directly responsible for any bomb attacks and would suspend the already faltering peace process if any occurred.

At first, the mutilated body of a man found after an explosion near the West Bank town of Ramallah was thought to be a would-be suicide bomber from Hamas who had blown himself up. Then, Palestinian police announced he was the 32-year-old Mr Sharif, the man wanted by Israel for helping to organise suicide bomb attacks. A pathologist's report showed he was shot in the chest and killed several hours before the bomb went off.

Israel said it believed the bullets might have been blown into Mr Sharif by a bomb and denied it was behind the death. For a moment Palestinian security seemed to veer towards the Israeli theory, but now a committee under Tayib Abdel-Rahim, an aide to Mr Arafat, has concluded it was men from military wing of Hamas who carried out the assassination and then tried to cover it up.

A Palestinian security official was quoted as saying that the motive for the killing was "internal political and financial disputes in Hamas". In the past, there have been divisions between the leadership in Gaza and the military wing in the West Bank, which at times seems to be more under the influence of militant Hamas leaders in Jordan and Syria. This is the first time - if the Palestinian claims turn out to be true - that Hamas will have killed one of its own leaders.

The reputation of the Preventive Security for impartial investigation is not high among ordinary Palestinians following well-publicised torture cases and arbitrary arrests. However, it would be politically dangerous for them to fabricate evidence in this case against Hamas, which is growing in political strength, unless there was some basis of truth in it. The Palestinian official claimed: "We have documents dealing with internal rifts in Hamas, and we have video film and pictures."