The shadowy military wing of the Islamic Hamas group went public on Saturday, revealing the names of its top commanders and outlining the history and increasing sophistication of its attacks against Israel in the latest salvo in the battle for credit over Israel's withdrawal from Gaza.
Hamas insists its fighters drove Israel out, while Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas credits his nonviolent approach. The jockeying for public opinion ahead of Palestinian legislative elections next year, could have lasting implications for the future makeup of the Palestinian Authority and the fate of nascent peace efforts with Israel.
In a posting on its Web site -- and on tens of thousands of fliers to be distributed in Palestinian towns in the coming days -- the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, detailed its command structure, publishing the names of seven top commanders along with photos, biographies and interviews.
The names were known to some in Gaza and analysts said Israeli intelligence almost certainly had all that information already, but the posting marked the first time Hamas' military arm published intricate details of its operations, leaders and their responsibilities.
The posting was part of a new campaign by the Islamic group to glorify its fighters and burnish its credentials as a liberation movement ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for January.
Sitting at the top of Hamas' military command structure was Mohammed Deif, who has been No. 1 on Israel's wanted list for years and survived three Israeli attempts to kill him. In a videotape released last week, Deif, who has been in hiding since 1992, was shown celebrating the Gaza pullout as a victory for armed resistance and calling for continued attacks until Israel is destroyed.
Israel and the US have called on Abbas to dismantle all Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas. Abbas has said such a crackdown could cause a civil war and has worked to co-opt the militants into the political system instead, encouraging them to honor an informal cease-fire with Israel and participate in the election.
"Changes of government and power will be through ballots, not bullets," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
In comments posted on the Web site, Deif warned that Hamas would use force if Palestinian police tried to disarm or arrest members of the group. "We will respond to any attack, whether from the Authority or from the Israelis," Deif was quoted as saying. "We will respond strongly to any attack on us."
Deif also said that Izzedine al-Qassam would not disband, and would continue to develop arms, including rockets.
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