Hamas, Islamic Jihad FAQ

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Palestinian Islamists

What is Hamas?
Hamas is the Palestinians’ major Muslim fundamentalist movement. With an extensive social service network and a terrorist wing that plots suicide bombings in Israel, it is the main opposition to Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, a determined foe of Israeli-Palestinian peace, and a major player in the current Middle East crisis.
Is Hamas the same thing as the PLO?
No. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is headed by Arafat, is not a fundamentalist group but the main secular, nationalist organization of Palestinian politics. After Israel and the PLO signed a peace deal in 1993, Arafat founded the Palestinian Authority (PA), a new, Palestinian-led government for the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas and the PA sometimes cooperate, sometimes compete, and sometimes clash. Hamas has cut deals with the PA, but it accuses Arafat’s regime of being corrupt and of selling out to Israel and America by participating in the peace process.

Is Hamas the same as Islamic Jihad?
No. Islamic Jihad is a much smaller, less organized group of Islamist radicals with closer ties to Iran. Unlike Hamas, it has no network of schools, clinics, or mosques, and it focuses entirely on terrorism. Islamic Jihad’s founder, Fathi Shikaki, was killed by Israeli agents in 1995 in Malta, and its nominal leader, Ramadan Shallah, now lives in Damascus, Syria.

What does “Hamas” mean?
In Arabic, the word “hamas” means zeal. But it’s also an Arabic acronym for “Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya,” or Islamic Resistance Movement.

What does Hamas believe?
Hamas combines the ideas of Palestinian nationalism and religious fundamentalism. Its founding charter pledges the group to carry out armed struggle, try to destroy Israel and replace Arafat’s government with an Islamist state on the West Bank and Gaza, and raise “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Hamas leaders gloated openly over a March 2002 suicide bombing that killed 28 Israelis at a Passover seder, calling it “a great success,” welcoming Israeli retaliation as a way to recruit more supporters, and hailing the weapon of suicide bombings as the “F-16” of the Palestinian people. Hamas believes “peace talks will do no good,” said the group’s main spokesman, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi. “We do not believe we can live with the enemy.”

Do Hamas and Islamic Jihad carry out suicide bombings?

Yes. Since 1994, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have dispatched more than 80 suicide bombers. The terrorists have blown up buses in major Israeli cities, as well as shopping malls, cafes, and other civilian targets. The bombings have killed more than 200 Israeli civilians. Hamas’ bombers tend to target civilians within Israel proper, rather than Israeli soldiers or settlers in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas has reportedly begun using military-grade explosives in suicide bombings, making them more lethal.