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Following engineer’s death in Malaysia, Hamas supporters debate action against Israel

Dr. Fadi Al-Batsh’s killing and statements by Hamas political bureau head Isma’il Haniya that “the battle with Israel has moved outside the occupied lands” sparked a debate on whether Hamas should act against Israel outside Gaza; to date, its policy has been to refrain from doing so.

Photo on Hamas website of "the martyr engineer Dr. Fadi Al-Batsh, assassinated by the treacherous hand in Malaysia." (Source: Hamas.ps, April 21, 2018: MEMRI)
Photo on Hamas website of "the martyr engineer Dr. Fadi Al-Batsh, assassinated by the treacherous hand in Malaysia." (Source: Hamas.ps, April 21, 2018: MEMRI)

On April 21, Palestinian engineer Dr. Fadi Al-Batsh was killed in a drive-by motorcycle shooting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat wrote that he was an outstanding researcher, expert in electrical engineering and rocket manufacture. It added that he had been living in Malaysia for a decade, after being sent there by Hamas to complete his studies, that he was acting secretly on behalf of Hamas, and that this was known to only a few Hamas leaders.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad official Khaled Al-Batsh, a relative of Batsh, accused the Israeli Mossad of assassinating him. Hamas itself accused Israel of assassinating him, describing him in its announcement of his death as “one of [Hamas’s] righteous knights and sons.”

During a condolence visit to the family’s home in the city of Jabaliya in the Gaza Strip, Hamas political bureau head Isma’il Haniya called on the Malaysian government to investigate the murder, noting that doing so would “reveal the involvement of the Mossad organization in the assassination.” He added that those behind the killing “will certainly yet pay the price,” and added “the battle with Israel has moved outside the occupied lands.”

At an April 26, Hamas military ceremony at the Rafah crossing to receive Batsh’s body, Haniya said: “The criminal hands sent against the martyr Al-Batsh will be cut off.”

Hamas official Khalil Al-Hayya said at the ceremony: “Oh occupation, the accounts between us have become heavy. The day of punishment will necessarily come.” Hamas official Osama Hamdan said that Hamas would closely follow the murder investigation conducted by the Malaysian authorities, but also stressed: “We in Hamas know that Israel is targeting Arab and Palestinian scientists.”

From the Hamas Interior Ministry photo album of the military reception for Batsh’s body at the Rafah crossing (Source: Moi.gov.ps/Home/Gallery_Photo/114415,  April 26, 2018.

Batsh’s killing, and Haniya’s statements that “the battle with Israel has moved outside the occupied lands,” sparked a debate within Hamas on the question of whether it, too, should act against Israel outside Gaza; to date, its declared policy has been to refrain from doing so. The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hezbollah, reported on April 23, that associates of Hamas were now seriously considering “moving some of the battle against the occupation outside of occupied Palestine.” However, the London daily Rai Al-Yawm, which is owned by Palestinian journalist Abd Al-Bari Atwan, assessed that most Hamas officials oppose anti-Israel activity abroad.

The argument within Hamas was reflected in articles published following Batsh’s killing on websites identified with the movement. Some writers argued that Hamas’s silence over the alleged assassinations of its scientists was encouraging Israel to continue killing them. They wrote that Hamas should respond in kind to Israel’s activity, that is, by harming Israeli interests and individuals abroad, since this was the best possible way to stop Israel from carrying out these killings. Others warned that Hamas activity against Israel abroad would likely boomerang, harming both Hamas and its relations with the countries in which it operates.

It should be noted that this is not the first time that voices within Hamas have called for also acting against Israel abroad; however, as noted, Hamas has not yet done so.

This report will review the arguments within Hamas for and against acting against Israel outside of Palestine.

The full report can be viewed at MEMRI here.

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