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Sunday, September 26, 2004

Mishaal Cautious After Israeli Threats to Kill Him



In light of the recent assassination in Syria, Khaled Mishaal coverage is appropriate: Mishaal Cautious After Israeli Threats to Kill Him.

Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal knows that Israel has him targeted again. And the leader of the Damascus-based political bureau of Hamas is taking no chances. "We are in a state of alert and vigilance," he said during a visit to Cairo from his home base in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

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Mishaal, a former physics professor, emerged as the top leader after Israel's assassinations of Yassin. The 48-year-old leader would not discuss details of his security, but new measures have been obvious since Yassin's assassination.

Hamas men in Damascus have been moving from one safe house to another. Reaching them, once possible with a knock on the door or phone call became a cloak-and-dagger affair mediated by aides and requiring long drives and detours to a mystery location. After the Beer Sheva bombings, contacting the Hamas leaders in Damascus became impossible.

Mishaal's visit to Cairo, for talks with Egyptian officials trying to persuade Palestinian factions to work together on how to run Gaza after a planned Israeli withdrawal, was previously unannounced. He surfaced here after dropping out of public sight in Damascus September 2, the day Hamas claimed responsibility for the Beer Sheva bombings.

"We are taking all the necessary security precautions because we face a vicious and vile enemy which practices its open terrorism openly against us, inside and outside [the Palestinian territories], on the political leadership and the public alike without exception," Mishaal said.

On September 25, 1997, Israeli intelligence agents tried to kill the Hamas leader, spraying him with poison on an Amman street. While Mishaal lay in a hospital, Jordan's King Hussein, who had signed a peace deal with Israel in 1994, persuaded Israel to send the antidote that saved his life.

Mishaal would not say whether he was moving out of Damascus or going deep underground after his trip to Cairo.

Syria has been under pressure from the United States for years to close down the Hamas offices in Damascus and expel the leaders. Washington, like Israel, considers Hamas a terrorist organization. Damascus has curtailed the activities of its Palestinian guests, but says they cannot be expelled because they have nowhere to go as long as Israel occupies their land.

Mishaal said since the latest bombings, the pressure has increased on Syria, where he has lived for several years. After the 1997 assassination attempt in Jordan, Jordan's relationship with Hamas deteriorated and Mishaal was expelled to Qatar. He moved afterward to Damascus.

Mishaal insisted Hamas' main base is in the Palestinian territories. "It is wrong to think that Hamas has an address in a specific Arab capital... It is present in many capitals and has representatives and is widely active in the Arab world," he said.

"I am speaking to you in Cairo, and I could talk to you in another Arab country. This is our natural right. The Palestinian people is spread out in all Arab regions."

But he said Hamas understands the difficulties some countries face. Syria has been slapped with U.S. sanctions.

Asked whether Hamas continues to operate from Syria or had been forced to keep silent to deflect the pressure, he replied without elaboration: "We are aware of the complicated situation in the conflict. We deal with each stage accordingly."

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