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Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades (كتائب شهداء الاقصى) are one of the militias of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's al-Fatah faction. They have been one of the driving forces behind the al-Aqsa Intifada, emerging shortly afterwards. This militia was originally named after the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites and an icon for the Palestinian movement. The group's membership is primarily drawn from the ranks of Tanzim, (organization in Arabic), a militant youth group within al-Fatah. Following Yasser Arafat's death on November 11, 2004, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades announced it was renaming itself to Brigades of Martyr Yasser Arafat. However, they later went back to using the original name.
While the group initially vowed to target only Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and carried out guerrilla warfare against the Israeli military, in early 2002 it began a series of attacks against civilians in Israeli cities. In March 2002, after a deadly al-Aqsa Brigades suicide bombing in Jerusalem, the US State Department added the group to the list of foreign terrorist organizations.
At that time, many Palestinian sources stated that the group was not officially backed by Arafat and Fatah, though brigade members tend also to be members of Fatah, the Palestinian leader's political faction.
Israel charges that neither Fatah nor the Palestinian Authority have made any attempt to prevent their attacks. On December 18, 2003, Fatah decided to ask the leaders of the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades to join the Fatah Council , recognizing it officially as part of the organization.
Furthermore, Israel published documents allegedly found in Arafat's compound, claiming that they prove Arafat knowingly sponsored Al-Aqsa attacks; US president George W. Bush used these documents to justify calling for the replacement of Arafat.
Relationship with Arafat and Fatah
The group's relationship with Arafat was subject to conflicting information from leaders within the group. Maslama Thabet , one of the group’s leaders in the West Bank town of Tulkarm, told USA Today in March 2002. "We receive our instructions from Fatah. Our commander is Yasser Arafat himself." While another leader Naser Badawi , told the New York Times days later that while "we respect our leader," the decision "to carry out attacks remains with the Aqsa Brigades leadership." Badawi added that Arafat has never approached the group to ask it to stop its suicide bombings, which Arafat has publicly condemned.
In November 2003 BBC journalists uncovered a payment by Fatah of $50,000 a month to Al-Aqsa. (see link below) This investigation, combined with the documents allegedly found by the IDF, led Israel to draw the conclusion that the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades have always been directly funded by Arafat. In June 2004 the current Palestinian Prime Minister openly stated this
- "We have clearly declared that the Aksa Martyrs Brigades are part of Fatah. We are committed to them and Fatah bears full responsibility for the group."
(Sources: Interview in Asharq al-Awsat, a London Muslim newspaper. Reported in the Jerusalem Post, June 20, 2004, "Fatah committed to Aksa Martyrs")
Israel arrested Marwan Barghouti, a leader of the group in April 2002, and in August charged him with numerous counts of murder (including murder of civilians), conspiracy to murder and membership in a terrorist organization. In addition to his "shadow job" with the group, Barghouti had also served as the general secretary of Fatah in the West Bank. The executive commander of the group, Taufik Tirawi , is claimed (by Israel) to be hiding in Arafat's compund in Ramallah.
- "The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, military wing of the Fatah movement will not be dissolved and Fatah will never relinquish its military wing."
Israeli intelligence officials claim that most of the al-Aqsa Brigades attacks in 2004 were guided and funded by Lebanese Islamist-Shiite group Hizbullah. Israeli security forces have arrested several al-Aqsa militants, admiting they have been backed by Hizbullah.
The al-Aqsa brigades are responsible for dozens of suicide bombings and many more shooting attacks against Israeli vehicles in the West Bank. Some notable suicide bombings committed by the group were:
- March 2, 2002: Beit Yisrael, Jerusalem - 11 killed.
- January 5, 2003: Southern Tel Aviv central bus station - 22 killed.
- January 29, 2004: Rehavia, Jerusalem, bus line 19 - 11 killed.
- March 14, 2004: Port of Ashdod - 10 killed. (together with Hamas)
Some of the al-Aqsa brigades' attacks were committed by minors. On March 24, 2004, a Palestinian teenager named Hussam Abdo was caught in an IDF checkpoint carrying an explosive belt. Following his arrest, an al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade teenagers' militant cell was exposed and arrested in Nablus.  However, the Brigades still exploiting children as suicide bombers, as on September 23, 2004 a 15-years-old suicide bomber was arrested by Israeli security forces.  See main article: child suicide bomber.
Al-Aqsa, like many militia groups, is noted for the use of promotional posters in the main cities of Palestine. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades have attacked Palestinians as well as Israelis. Their Palestinian targets range from opponents of Arafat's rule to journalists to moderates and suspected collaborators. In November and December, 2003 they killed the brother of Ghassan Shaqawa (the mayor of Nablus) and have tried to assassinate him several times. On February 2004 Shaqawa filed his resignation from office in protest of the Palestinian Authority's lack of action against the armed militias rampaging the city. Through the first three months of 2004, a number of attacks on journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been blamed on the Brigades as well, including the attack on the Arab television station Al-Arabiya's West Bank offices by masked men self-identifying as members of the Brigades. Palestinian journalists in Gaza called a general strike on February 9 to protest this rising violence against journalists.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades have taken prominent part in July 2004 riots in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian officers has been kidnapped and PA security headquarters buildings and policemen were attack by armed gunmen. These riots led the Palestinian cabinet to declare a state of emergency. One media outlet described the situation in the Palestinian Authority as anarchy and chaos. See main article: Chaos in Palestinian Authority.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades have also carried out joint attack with other militant groups such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, The Popular Resistance Committees and in the West Bank, even with Hizbullah.
The firing of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip by Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades into Israel is strongly opposed by those living closest to the firing location due to frequent Israeli military responses to Qassam rocket launches. On July 23, 2004, a 15 year old Arab boy was shot and killed by Palestinian militants after he and his family physically opposed their attempt to set up a Qassam rocket launcher outside the family's house. Five other individuals were wounded in the incident.
List of al-Aqsa Brigades activists
List of notable members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade (AAMB for short), ordered lexicographically according to the last name, includes active militants and militants that were killed or arrested by the Israeli security forces.
- Naif Abu-Sharah : local commander of the AAMB in Nablus (killed by IDF forces).
- Marwan Barghouti : high commander of the AAMB (arrested by the IDF and sentenced for life in prison for murdering Israeli civilians).
- Sirhan Sirhan : murdered 5 people, including a mother and her 2 children in Kibbutz Metzer (killed by the YAMAM). Not to be confused with the Sirhan Sirhan responsible for assassinating Robert Kennedy.
- Zakariye Zubeydi : local commander of the AAMB in Jenin, known for it relationship with Israeli far left activist Tali Fahima .
- Palestinian terrorism.
- Palestinian Authority.
- Yassir Arafat.
- The Popular Resistance Committees.
- Suicide bombing
- Child suicide bomber
- Terrorism Q&A: Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades
- Profile: Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade
- Index of documents found by Israel, implying as Israel holds, direct control of the PA over Fatah and the Brigades.
- Al-Aqsa letter to Bethlehem municipality, asking for supplies.
- The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades: A political tool with an edge, from Israel's Institute for Counter-Terrorism.
- Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades Joins the Fatah Council.
- Daily Life in the Palestininian Authority
- BBC: Palestinian Authority Funds go to Militants
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