In a qualitative and grave escalation of its war against the Palestinians, Israel’s army has begun targeting political leaders of Palestinian resistance groups.
The new policy found expression on 31 July when American-made Apache helicopters fired several electronically- guided missiles at a building in downtown Nablus housing a media office affiliated to the Palestinian Islamic resistance movement, Hamas.
The deadly rockets reduced the building to rubble and twisted metal, killing instantly eight civilians, including two prominent Islamist political leaders, Jamal Salim and Jamal Mansour, two journalists, two academics and two children aged eight and 10.
The bodies of the victims, which were shown on TV screens around the world, were incinerated and mutilated beyond recognition.
Islamist sources in Nablus described as “cheap disinformation” Israeli media claims that Jamal Mansour, 42 and father of five children, was associated with the military wing of Hamas, the Izzedin Al-Qassam.
“The Israelis know quite well that he had nothing to do with the Hamas military wing, all he did was media work,” said Sheikh Hassan Youssef, an Islamist leader in Ramalla and a close friend of both Mansour and Salim.
Salim, 45, and father of seven, was a lecturer at Najah University and apparently had no connection with the Hamas military wing.
The two journalists killed, Osman Katamani, 30, and the newly-wed Fahim Dawabshe, 22, were conducting an interview with Salim and Mansour at the time of the bombing. Both were ordinary journalists with an Islamic orientation but with no affiliation to Hamas.
The two other adults killed in the bombing were Omar Mansour, a cousin and bodyguard of Jamal Mansour, and Mohamed Bishawi, a human rights activist who worked for the Nablus-based society “Solidarity International” which researches and documents human rights violations in Palestine.
The most tragic of the victims were Ashraf Abdel-Moneim, five, and his 7-year-old brother, Bilal, who were buried under rubble while sitting outside a grocery store in the street.
The killings triggered unprecedented bitterness and indignation throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Shortly after the bombing, tens of thousands of Palestinians spontaneously took to the streets, condemning the carnage and demanding revenge.
Some of their voiced slogans denounced Arab regimes for failing to offer tangible political support for the Palestinians and especially for refusing to exert pressure on Israel’s strategic ally, the United States.
Predictably, Hamas reacted to the murder of two of its most prominent and intelligent political leaders by vowing to avenge their blood sooner rather than later.
The Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Abdel-Aziz Al-Rantisi, described the killing in Nablus as “exceeding all red lines.”
“From now on, all Israeli politicians, Knesset members and ministers, from the criminal Sharon down, will be legitimate targets for our martyrdom operations,” he added.
Leaders of the Fatah faction loyal to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Yasser Arafat gave a similar reaction, calling the carnage “a new hideous massacre added to Sharon’s long list of massacres against our people.”
However, some of Fatah’s indignation was directed at the PA leadership for failing to provide “real protection of our people who are being killed and maimed round-the-clock.”
These strong words came from Husam Khader, a popular Fatah leader in the Nablus region, who in the past has warned Arafat against budging under Israeli and American pressure on the question of the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
In an interview with an Arab satellite television an hour after the carnage, Khader lashed out at Arafat for “behaving as if things are normal.”
“We have 70,000 guns in storage under PA disposal, my question to Abu Ammar (Arafat) is why we don’t use them to defend ourselves … Should we wait until they (the Israelis) liquidate half our people.”
The horrible killing in Nablus was the culmination of a week of murder and “quiet assassinations” carried out by the Israeli army of occupation which claimed the lives of at least 18 Palestinians with scores of others, including four children, badly wounded and disfigured by indiscriminate artillery bombardment of civilian neighborhoods in Gaza and the West Bank town of Hebron.
On 29 July, a “quiet assassination” took place in the village of Tubas just outside Nablus when Israeli soldiers used remote control to detonate a bomb planted by agents in a junkyard where six Fatah activists were about to have dinner.
The powerful blast mutilated the bodies of the six youths, severing the head of one of them and scattering their flesh and limbs in a 50-meter radius.
The killing was bitterly condemned by the PA, which called on the world community to “protect us from the neo-Nazis.”
“Without jury, without trial, without arrest, without charge, without nothing, they (Israel) decide that somebody ought to die, and they send their murderers and have him killed,” Nablus Governor Mahmoud Alul said.
The assassination of so many Palestinians, including unmistakable political leaders of political movements, in such a short time is expected to put tremendous pressure on Hamas, Fatah and other resistance groups to mount what one Hamas spokesman called “qualitative attacks.”
“We must strike terror in their hearts, otherwise they will kill us all, one by one,” said the spokesman, who asked for anonymity.
The bloodied escalation of the Israeli rampage against the Palestinians is also likely to prompt the PA to be more outspoken in demanding that influential Arab states with good ties with the US exert pressure on the Americans to rein in Israeli savagery.
A few days ago, PA official Sa’eb Ereikat told the Voice of Palestine: “Our problem is not only with Israel and the US, it is also with these Arab regimes that refuse to tell the US that enough is enough.
“There are thousands of American companies operating in the Arab world. If the Arabs stopped drinking Coca Cola, this alone would force Americans to review their blind support for Israel,” he added.