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Thursday, August 28, 2003

HAMAS is scared

"Palestinian Militants Dodge Israel Search" by Mohammed Daraghmeh, AP
(How come so many AP writers and photographers are named Mohammed?)
NABLUS - Palestinian militants are shaving off their beards, slipping into women's robes and turning off their cell phones, forced to go deeper underground to try to escape after Israel warned that they are marked for death.

Many gunmen, bombmakers and rocket builders have been on the run for much of the past three years of fighting, but now they are taking more dramatic steps in the face of Israel's intensified manhunt.

Israel has killed seven Hamas members, including a senior leader, in three missile strikes in five days. The latest strike was a botched helicopter attack against a car carrying Hamas members in Gaza City on Tuesday that instead killed a bystander, a waterpipe vendor. Israel's army chief has warned every militant is a "potential target for liquidation."

In response, Hamas is urging its members to take new precautions. The Islamic militant group posted leaflets on mosque doors, telling fugitives to stay indoors or, if they must move around, to ride in cars alone, never in groups. "Our brothers should use different clothes ... and change their appearance," the flyer said.

Several militants in Gaza and the West Bank said privately they are following the makeover advice. One West Bank Hamas activist said wanted men were urged in recent days to change their looks, and pointed to the example of Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, a legendary fugitive and bombmaker who managed to evade Israeli troops for several years, before being killed two years ago.

Abu Hanoud was a master of disguise, at times wearing the dress of a devout Muslim woman or the robe of a Palestinian villager, or shaving off his beard and cutting his hair in a fashionable style.

"We still use some of his ways," the Hamas activist said, noting that a heavy-set wanted man has been asked to lose weight, get rid of his beard and refine a new look for a forged ID card.

An Israeli security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the militants' decision to lower their profile will make it harder to hit them. Israel is pressing ahead with the targeted killings, waiting for its quarry to make a mistake, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In the Gaza Strip, militants mainly fear missile strikes, since Israel has not yet sent in ground troops.

Hamas' political leaders in Gaza, once popular guests on Arab satellite TV stations, have stayed off the air since one of their own, Ismail Abu Shanab, was killed in an Israeli missile strike Thursday; a live appearance at one of the local TV studios would make it easy for Israel to hit them.
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