Exiled leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad residing in Damascus have beefed up security around them since Saturday, fearing that Israel will try to assassinate them, “reliable Palestinians sources” told the London-based Al-Quds Al-‘Arabi.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad both have influential leaders living in exile in Damascus, where they have set up headquarters and enjoy the protection of the Syrian regime. Israel designates Hamas and Islamic Jihad as terror organizations.
Sources told the paper that the new security measures were taken in light of recent threats made by Israel to target Hamas leaders, whether inside the Palestinians territories or elsewhere. Israel is especially eyeing Khalid Mash’al, known as the head of Hamas’ politburo, and secretary general of Islamic Jihad, Rama’dan ‘Abdallah Shalah. Both are taking extra security precautions, especially when moving from one place to the other, the sources said.
Mash’al’s and Shalah’s fears of assassination would not be unfounded. 'Imad Mughniyah, Hizbullah’s head of operations was assassinated in February 2008 in Damascus. Israel’s overseas intelligence agency, the Mossad, has been named as a possible orchestrator of this attack. Israel never confirmed its role in the killing and as a rule Jerusalem does not comment on its security operations overseas.
The Palestinian guards tasked with protecting the leaders are on high alert, but the sources denied the leaders were going underground to secret hiding places.
The news comes as Israel enters its fifth day of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, which aims to stop the firing of rockets onto Israeli homes and to topple the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip. Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in a violent coup in June 2007 and has since been governing the strip with a deposed government, which is shunned by the West.