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Monday, August 09, 2004

Meet the Abu Rish Brigades

Sydney Morning Herald: It was the Abu Rish Brigades that spurred the wave of internal kidnappings and clashes when they abducted the Gaza police chief, Ghazi al-Jabali, on July 16 in protest, they said, at Palestinian Authority corruption.

They gained international notoriety later that day when they briefly abducted and held four French aid workers in breach of a Palestinian taboo against harming or harassing foreign humanitarian workers and journalists.

"We didn't kidnap them; we only held them as our guests," said a group spokesman, using the nom de guerre Abu Haron, this week. "We didn't even know at first that they were French. We were shocked then, because the French are a friendly nation."
The four foreigners were held for several hours at a Red Crescent clinic and then released as soon as the Abu Rish Brigades' leader, Amar Abu Sitta, had received a telephone call from Yasser Arafat.

"Our banner is jihad everywhere, even Chechnya," Abu Haron said. "Our aim is to liberate every piece of land in Palestine, including what is now called Israel. . . ."

Palestinian factions are more like extended Arab clans than political parties: you might disagree with your family, you may even fight with it, but you never leave it.
Setting out his group's history, Abu Haron had to pause at times to choke back sobs and wipe away tears. On Thursday of last week Amar Abu Sitta, the group's beloved founder, was killed by a targeted Israeli helicopter strike after 11 years on the run.

His original offence in Israeli eyes - proudly acknowledged by the Abu Rish Brigade - was the killing of several Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip in the mid 1990s, despite the ceasefire agreed at the time between Israel and Mr Arafat. Israelis point out that Abu Sitta's first victim was his then employer, Uri Magidish, whom he killed in the settler's own greenhouse in the south Gaza settlement of Gan-Or in 1993.

Abu Haron expounded at length on the achievements of the Abu Rish Brigades in attacking Israeli soldiers and settlers in the Gaza Strip and on its relations with Hamas and Fatah military offshoots like the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade and the Popular Resistance Committees.

Later, as we were driving away from the interview, a mobile phone rang. It was Abu Haron.
"I meant to tell you," he said. "After Amar Abu Sitta was killed we heard from the Israeli radio that the wife of the settler he killed was having a party in Neve Dekalim to celebrate his death. So a few of us went out and we fired mortars at them."
Lovely people.