Dissatisfied Palestinians May Turn to Al Qaeda

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Dissatisfied Palestinians who believe that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are not doing enough to further their cause may turn to al Qaeda, giving global jihad cells a foothold in the Gaza Strip, senior military sources here said.

Following last week's triple suicide bombing that targeted three Western hotels in Amman, Jordan, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, spoke more directly than he has in the past about his intention to strike this area.

The Jordanian-born al Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the blasts that killed at least 57 people in Amman, and in an Internet posting, his group threatened further attacks in the area.

"The protective wall for the Jews...and the military base of the Crusader armies and the [Iraqi] government...are now in the line of fire of the mujahedeen and their raids," the Internet message said.

The importance of Zarqawi's message is that he spoke more directly than he has previously about his intentions to attack in this area, senior military sources told Cybercast News Service.

Israel does not believe there are any "hard core" al Qaeda elements or cells connected directly to the al Qaeda leadership in the Gaza Strip yet, but there are signs that local cells could form, the sources said.

Last month a leaflet was distributed in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip saying that the "Palestine Branch" of al Qaeda had begun to operate there.

Earlier, three masked men claimed responsibility in the name of al Qaeda for firing several rockets at former Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip this summer.

"We see more and more people in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority territories looking for something else. They are not satisfied with what Hamas and Fatah are doing today," said the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Al Qaeda cells previously have claimed responsibility for major attacks in the region. Last year, al Qaeda was blamed for bombing several resorts in Taba, Egypt, and the Sinai Desert -- places frequented by Israelis.

Global jihad forces were responsible for a triple bomb attack in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in July.

In August, several Katyusha rockets fired at two U.S. warships in the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba missed their mark and instead struck civilian buildings and the airport at the nearby Israeli city of Eilat.

Some of the people who carried out those attacks are still at large and are starting to communicate with the Gaza Strip, said the sources. "Today it is much easier since Israel is not in the area," they added.

Israel completed its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in mid-September, leaving the Gaza-Egyptian border in Egyptian hands. It took days to bring the free flow of people and weapons under control, Israel says.

So far, P.A. security forces have denied any al Qaeda presence in Gaza.

Motivation for global jihad

Ironically, an agreement between the P.A. and terrorist organizations like Hamas to refrain from major terror attacks has given incentive to global jihad groups to try to carry out attacks here, the military sources said.

In the past, Israel surmised that global jihad groups -- those at war with Western civilization -- considered Israel well targeted by local Palestinian groups, which carried out terror attacks almost daily from 2000 to 2004, said the sources.

But with the construction of Israel's security barrier, there are far fewer attacks inside Israel, giving global jihad the motivation and incentive to operate in Israel, they said.

Also, the number of "Iraqi graduates" -- terrorists trained in the Iraqi insurgency -- are spreading out, creating a "very threatening phenomenon," they said.

Previously, Israel was most worried about insurgents who were making their way into Iraq but that is now coupled with concern about terrorists who are leaving Iraq to commit attacks elsewhere.

Because Hamas has its own agenda, it doesn't need the agenda of global jihad. But the military sources said it's possible that some elements of Hamas might gravitate to a global jihad group.

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