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(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip said Thursday that they were not worried about the possibility that Israel might assassinate the movement's top leaders.
The officials said that Hamas had prepared itself for such an eventuality to ensure there would be no leadership vacuum if Israel carried out its threats.
They also stressed that the assassination of one or two Hamas leaders would not weaken the movement or deter it from pursuing its path of "resistance" against Israel.
"In the past, Israel killed [Hamas founder and spiritual leader] Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and [Yassin's successor] Abdel Aziz Rantisi and that didn't have any effect on Hamas," said Hamas legislator and spokesman Mushir al-Masri.
"On the contrary, the assassinations only strengthened Hamas and increased its popularity among the Palestinians."
Another Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, said that the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip were not afraid of death. "The Hamas leaders are on the front line in the battle against the Israeli occupation," he said. "As such, they are not afraid of joining the bandwagon of martyrs."
Both Barhoum and al-Masri pointed out that Hamas had taken into consideration the possibility that its leaders in the Gaza Strip would be targeted by Israel one day.
"Every Palestinian is a potential target of Israeli crimes," they said. They added that "since there was no shortage of charismatic figures" in Hamas, the movement would not face difficulties in appointing new leaders.
A senior aide to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told The Jerusalem Post that Hamas would name new leaders "within a day or two" so as to avoid a situation where there would be a vacuum in the leadership.
"Hamas is a popular movement that doesn't center on this or that leader," he said. "Almost every member of Hamas is fit to become a leader."
The aide said he didn't know if Hamas had already prepared a list of potential candidates to succeed Haniyeh and other senior figures of the movement if and when they were assassinated by Israel.
"What is certain is that Hamas won't collapse or become weaker if one or two of its leaders are killed," the aide emphasized. "Look what happened to Fatah after Yasser Arafat died - everything is crumbling because Fatah was a one-man show run by Arafat. This is not the case with Hamas."
Haniyeh is one of three Hamas figures who make up the current leadership of the movement in Gaza. The other two are Mahmoud Zahar, the unofficial "foreign minister" of Hamas, and Said Siam, the movement's top security official in the Strip.
The three men, who enjoy tremendous popularity among Hamas supporters, are directly responsible for the movement's day-to-day activities. All three have narrowly escaped assassination attempts either by Israel or rival Fatah militiamen. Two of Zahar's sons were killed by the IDF over the past few years.
Hamas has two other prominent officials in the Gaza Strip who are likely to fill the vacuum in the event of the demise of Haniyeh, Zahar and Siam. The two are Khalil al-Hayeh and Ahmed Bahr, the acting speaker of the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council.
Al-Hayeh was a member of the Hamas delegation that negotiated with the Egyptians the six-month cease-fire agreement with Israel that ended last Friday, while Bahr has largely served as a prominent spokesman for Hamas, especially in the Arab world. Because the two are widely respected in Hamas circles, they are likely to be promoted in the future.
Asked about the Israeli threats to kill Hamas leaders, al-Hayeh said Thursday: "The blood of our leaders is not more precious than that of our sons who have already been martyred. Nor is our blood more precious than that of our prisoners. We are prepared to sacrifice our blood for the sake of Allah."
Sources close to Hamas said that the status of the Hamas leadership in Syria would be elevated if Israel eliminated the current movement leaders in the Gaza Strip. The sources noted that over the past three years the two leaderships had often clashed over Hamas's strategy and tactics.
"Ironically, Khaled Mashaal and his colleagues in Damascus and Beirut will benefit from the elimination of the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip," said a Gaza City journalist with close links to Hamas. "When you compare the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip with those sitting in Damascus and Beirut and Teheran, the former appear to be more pragmatic. The day might come when Israel would miss the Hamas leaders of the Gaza Strip."
The journalist noted that it was the Hamas leadership in Syria that decided to boycott the Egyptian-sponsored "national reconciliation" conference in Cairo in early November, prompting the Egyptians to condemn Mashaal and his Damascus-based colleagues as "gangsters" and "liars." And it was the same leaders who vetoed an extension of the just-lapsed cease-fire.
He added that the Egyptians were concerned that the elimination of the Gaza Strip's Hamas leadership would pave the way for Mashaal and his masters in Damascus and Teheran to tighten their grip on the movement.
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