GAZA, (Reuters) – A militant leader appointed to a senior security position in the Hamas-led Palestinian government said on Friday he would not abandon the fight against Israel which has long sought to kill him.
Jamal Abu Samhadana, high on Israel’s most wanted list as leader of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), was appointed on Thursday to supervise the Interior Ministry and set up a new police force from militants to crack down on anarchy and chaos.
“Factions and security services should unite in one trench against the daily Israeli aggression against our people,” Abu Samhadana told Reuters in an interview.
Israeli officials said Abu Samhadana was still in the army’s sights despite his senior appointment in the government led by the Islamist Hamas movement.
The militant group, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, took office last month after winning a Palestinian parliamentary election in January which gave it control of the government.
Israel, which has killed dozens of militants in air strikes, has tried unsuccessfully to kill Abu Samhadana several times.
“We will continue to pursue him. He is a terrorist and the fact that he has received a senior role in the Palestinian Authority does not make him immune,” said a senior Israeli official who declined to be identified.
The 43-year-old leader of a faction that has carried out bomb and rocket attacks against Israel since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000 said his first order of business would be amalgamating militants in the security forces.
His appointment was widely seen as an attempt by Hamas to strengthen its grip on the ministry which controls several security agencies, especially after Abbas recently appointed one of his loyalists, Rashid Abu Shbak, as its director-general.
The move could widen Abbas’s rift with Hamas, which has rejected his calls to pursue peace with Israel. Abbas’s office has criticised Abu Samhadana’s appointment.
Abu Samhadana said his new appointment in the Interior Ministry, originally set up to reign in militant factions in accord with international demands, did not mean he was giving up his leadership of the PRC.
“I will continue to hold the rifle and will pull the trigger whenever required to defend my people,” he said.
The PRC carried out major bomb attacks against Israeli occupation forces in Gaza before Israel withdrew in September.
They were also suspected of being behind the bombing of a U.S. diplomatic convoy in Gaza in 2003 in which three Americans were killed. The PRC had denied involvement.
While Abu Samhadana is originally from Fatah, he is Hamas’s choice and has close ties to the movement.
“He was on Israel’s most wanted list before and there hasn’t been any change in what he’s doing,” another Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Those who are involved in terrorist activity will not be exonerated”.
Unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has spiralled since Hamas won the election, partly due to anger by Fatah members who fear that Hamas will try to sideline them with its own people.