Hamas terrorists 311.
(photo credit: AP)
A secretive Hamas campaign to catch Palestinians spying for Israel has ensnared some prominent Gaza residents, drawn unusual criticism and highlighted the group's deep fears about being penetrated by agents of the Jewish state.
There is widespread shock at some of the well-respected names among those thought to be detained — including two prominent physicians and a respected engineer, alongside members of Hamas itself.
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And mostly, there is concern about the extreme secrecy surrounding the arrests. Hamas refuses to say who has been arrested, a policy that has sparked a furious rumor mill since the arrests began earlier in September.
"Everybody in Gaza is under suspicion," said Mukheimar Abu Sada, a Gaza-based political scientist widely known for his independence, describing an atmosphere of fear in Gaza, where collaborators are widely loathed and the preferred method of their punishment is death — either through the courts or vigilantes.
Hamas feels "the government has been completely infiltrated, that Israel knows more about Hamas than what they know of themselves," Abu Sada said.
The Iranian-backed group seized control of Gaza from the rival Palestinian Fatah movement in June 2007. Hamas' initial crackdowns were political, targeting Fatah supporters but eventually the net widened, absorbing lawless tribes, human rights groups and extremist Muslims opposed to Hamas' rule.
Along with the crackdowns, Hamas has steadily imposed its strict Muslim lifestyle on traditionally conservative Gazans — banning women from smoking water-pipes
, warning cafes not to allow men and women to mix in public, and pressuring women to wear the Muslim headscarf.
Human rights workers who are in frequent touch with security officials estimate that more than 20 low-level Hamas operatives have also been rounded up as suspected collaborators in the September arrests. Detainees have been denied access to lawyers or family visits.
A senior Hamas figure based in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, said the group detained a number of collaborators and that some of them had confessed.
But Hamas officials in Gaza are silent on the detentions — fearing any chatter might help Israel figure out who has been arrested. Officials have called for calm and promised a more detailed public accounting soon.
"We are talking about a very sensitive issue and we will not be rushed," said Hamas interior ministry spokesman Ehab Ghussain.
The campaign is taking a heavy toll on the population.
"Rumors ... have touched people and families and organizations that are respected in Gaza, and this has led to confusion and the shredding of our social fabric," prominent Gaza writer Mustafa Sawaf wrote in the pro-Hamas daily Felesteen, in rare public criticism of the militant group.
He said Hamas needs to explain its actions: "We need to put the complete facts before the people, even if it is bitter."
The September arrests followed a widely advertised campaign entitled "Repentance for Collaborators," which began several months ago with radio appeals for spies to surrender in exchange for amnesty.
Gaza Palestinians widely approved of Hamas executing three convicted
collaborators in May. Another 11 people have been sentenced to death.
Rights groups say gunmen loyal to the group killed 17 prisoners, mostly
"There is no doubt that the circle is closing (on collaborators) as a
result of the efforts that are being exerted," Hamdan said.