Shadowy militants exult in revenge for martyr's death

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The Independent Online
ASYA ABDUL-HADI

Gaza

PATRICK COCKBURN

Jerusalem

The militant Islamic Hamas movement immediately claimed responsibility in Gaza and Jerusalem for yesterday's bombing saying it was the last attack while it waited for Israel's response to its offer of a three month truce. It said the units of "the martyr Yahyah Ayyash announce their responsibility for the martyrdom operation in the heart of Jerusalem this morning".

The suicide-bomber was named as Islam Mohammed, 24, from Hebron, south of Jerusalem, according to a PLO official. The identity of the organisation behind the three bombings in the last week iremains unclear, but appears to be cells which have split off from the Izzedine al-Qasim military wing of Hamas.

Hamas supporters say the split took place because the political leadership did not want to avenge Ayyash, the so-called engineer assassinated with a booby-trapped mobile phone on 5 January. Its ability to strike at the same number bus - number 18 - exactly a week, almost to the minute, after its first bombings, shows those behind it are well organised.

Earlier, Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the PLO, declared that the military wing of Hamas and Islamic Jihad were illegal. He described the bombing as a "terrorist, dangerous and serious act," and said: "It is not just against Israel but against the Palestinians and the peace process. I strongly condemn who is behind the attack."

Sheikh Sayed Abu-Msameh, a prominent Hamas leader, said he was against the killing of civilians but described the attacks as retaliatory.

He said he favoured a truce, if Israel agrees to it. But in Gaza there were some Palestinians who approved of the attacks. "I'm proud of what happened, regardless of the consequences," said Abu-Ahmed, a driver. "The attack in itself will fulfill the hopes of the Palestinian people to take back Jerusalem. Hassan Ayyab, 60, was even more direct. "The Oslo accords achieved nothing for us, as we still feel insecure. I hope three buses blow up every day," he said.

The statement issued by the shadowy organisation behind the bombers gives some idea of its aims. It says it has achieved its main aim of avenging Ayyash and will halt attacks for three months, so that Hamas and the Israeli government can talk through the mediation of the Palestinian Authority. The truce will be cancelled if the Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency, pursues Hamas or Izzedine al-Qasim members.

Addressing the Israeli people, the statement says: "We tell you calmly that neither Labour nor Likud will offer you security as long as your government uses terrorism against us, and continues to arrest our people. The closure and all security measures will not prevent us from striking whenever, and wherever, we want."

The statement warns "brothers" from Izzedine al-Qasim against offering a truce, as they did last week. It says also that the Palestine Authority should stop arresting and torturing members of Hamas.

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