Cease-Fire Producing Splinter Terror Groups?
Jun 30, 2003
Stratfore Intelligence Report
An apparent splinter group of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade has claimed responsibility for the June 30 shooting death of a Bulgarian worker in Nablus, saying it rejects the wider Palestinian cease-fire agreements. Meanwhile, sources say cells within Hamas are debating whether to observe the cease-fire or splinter off themselves. For now, the shooting is an isolated incident and has not elicited a violent reaction by the Israeli military. However, if Hamas, al-Aqsa or Fatah cannot rein in their splinter groups or the Israeli army reacts harshly to further attacks, the fragile new cease-fire will shatter.
On the heels of a cease-fire agreement between the Israeli government and several Palestinian factions, a Bulgarian guest worker was shot June 30 while driving near the West Bank town of Nablus. In the aftermath of the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel "will not turn a blind eye to the violence."
Initial reports said the al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, an offshoot of Fatah, claimed responsibility for the killing. However, al-Aqsa representatives said shortly afterward that they would observe a three-month cease-fire. In a subsequent release, a group identifying itself as the Martyrs of the Jenin Refugee Camp -- a part of al Aqsa that says it does not answer to any central authority -- claimed responsibility for the attack. The Martyrs of Jenin group, which has disavowed any involvement with factions taking part in the cease-fire, can throw a monkey-wrench into the peace process by striking out against Israelis -- a tactic that traditionally has brought down a heavy-handed response from the Israel Defense Forces.
If the statement issued by the Martyrs of Jenin can be taken at face value, the world would be seeing the first disgruntled Palestinian splinter group to emerge as a result of the peace process.
The impact that such a group might have will be seen largely in the responses to its actions, rather than the actions themselves. The Martyrs of Jenin reportedly operates out of the Jenin refugee camp, which is home to roughly 13,000 people. Since it is the only identified Palestinian group so far to oppose the cease-fire -- and if it operates from only one refugee camp -- it can be surmised that the group lacks large numbers or a developed support structure.
Al-Aqsa is not the only group that might be splintering into new factions. A source close to Hamas told Stratfor that several of its cells -- in both the Gaza Strip and West Bank -- reject the leadership's three-month cease-fire deal. Some cells have demanded an explanation of the hudna from higher Hamas officials, and others have agreed at local meetings new attacks against Israelis will be launched -- regardless of the group's overall position -- once the first Palestinian is killed by either Israeli government forces or Jewish extremists. Still other cells, sources say, are now discussing whether to even wait for a trigger or just to follow the example set by the Martyrs of Jenin and continue attacks unabated.
It is possible that Fatah -- which reportedly had complained about not being consulted before militant groups made cease-fire announcements -- is behind the shooting of the Bulgarian worker. In this scenario, the faction might be seeking to demonstrate its continued relevance to the peace process, while keeping its image "clean" by using a cover group to carry out and take credit for the attack. However, other than showing that Fatah has the ability to wreck the ceasefire -- which no one doubts -- this would accomplish nothing. And that makes this scenario very unlikely.
As of now, the Nablus shooting remains an isolated incident. Israeli forces have withdrawn from Gaza and officials still say they will leave Bethlehem on July 1, turning security functions over to the Palestinians, and no tanks have started rolling. For at least its first several hours, the cease-fire is continuing relatively smoothly -- putting the onus for the time being on Hamas, Fatah and al-Aqsa to rein in the Martyrs of Jenin and other splinter groups.