Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat- Contacting Salim Thabit, the senior official in Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Brigades and commander of the Imad Mughniyeh groups, required much more than the usual time it takes to contact any of the brigades’ officials or any other Palestinian official. It took two days. His cell phone is off constantly and he switches it on at a predetermined time to receive a call from a known source. The people of the Gaza Strip know him very well. He is responsible for one of the most qualitative operations in Gaza, the Ashdod Port operation of 2004 in which 11 Israelis were killed.
Israeli intelligence service (Shabak) knows him. He is the terrorist topping list of those wanted for liquidation who has left his fingerprints in the West Bank and inside Israel. “Shabak” tried several times during the past eight years and Israeli aircraft hunted him down from one place to another and struck his house three times totally destroying it but in vain. In addition to the Ashdod operation, he was one of those responsible for the Eretz operation in 2003 in which four Israelis were killed. His men once tried to attract an Israeli businessman to Tulkarm to kill him and provide Thabit with a chance to negotiate from Gaza for handing back his body. Thabit does not try to hide his relationship with Lebanon’s Hezbollah and even states it publicly. When “Asharq al-Awsat” asked about the nature of this relationship, he said that, unlike that of those close to Hezbollah, “it is an organizational one.” Thabit commands thousands of Fatah members who became united in the Gaza Strip under the name of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Imad Mughniyeh groups (Hezbollah’s military commander who was assassinated in Syria)” after Hamas movement seized control of it in June 2007. He said he chose Mughniyeh’s name because he was one of the leaders of Fatah’s “Force 17” and worked with late President Yasser Arafat. He added he “represented the situation, the resistance wherever it is, correctly, and their unity in Lebanon and Palestine.” He asserts that his groups receive direct support from Hezbollah and said in answer about the kind of this support “financial and logistical.”
Informed Fatah sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that some of his men were trained by Hezbollah elements and that Thabit personally traveled several times to Lebanon and Iran. Thabit commented on this by saying “I was with them during the recent war.” When asked whether he took part in that war he answered: “No, I was just a tourist.”
The support that Thabit and his men are receiving from Hezbollah is considerable and reaches hundreds of thousands of dollar. The sources said the Fatah leadership is annoyed by this direct support and this sophisticated relationship adding: “Everyone in Fatah, even President Abu-Mazin, talked to Thabit and his reply was: No one looks after his men like Hezbollah.” According to the sources, the Israelis also talked to late President Arafat and Abu-Mazin about this relationship. Thabit said his relationship with the Fatah leaders “is excellent” as is his relationship with the Hamas and all the other factions’ leaderships.
He said they (Hezbollah) have no conditions and are only backing the resistance. He added: “The important thing is to be a sincere resistance fighter, not like today’s fashion, every two persons forming a group.” He added: “They know who to support.”
Hezbollah also maintains good and developed relations with several armed groups in the West Bank. According to sources, it has men and eyes and it pays them fixed sums of money regularly as it paid for resuming armed action in the West Bank. According to the sources, hundreds of thousands of dollars were transferred to men in the West Bank during the last year. Though the security situation in the West Bank is difficult and complicated because of the direct occupation of the territories and the fact that the Palestinian security organs do not allow anymore any armed action by the factions, Thabit said he has men there operating under the Mughniyeh groups’ name though he admitted that “they are not able to breath.” Thabit, called by the Fatah members” Hezbollah’s man”, knows who has connection with Hezbollah and who does not. When asked about the “Palestinian Hezbollah Brigades” and whether it does exist on the ground or not and which side it follows, he answered: “They are small groups that actually exist. But Hezbollah has no connection with them.”
Thabit is 32 years old, married with two sons and a daughter. He was arrested four times. His comrades call him “hajj.” He was injured and treated in Algeria. He received a proposal to live outside Palestine in a European country but refused because he believes he will die in Gaza.