What Are Hamas and Hezbollah?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Oct. 17 2000 6:12 PM

What Are Hamas and Hezbollah?

Various groups from State Department-designated terrorist organizations to a youth militia are roiling the Middle East. What's their background?

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Hamas is an acronym for the Arab words for Islamic Resistance Movement; the word itself means "zeal." It was founded in 1987 at the time of the Palestinian uprising, the intifada, in Gaza and the West Bank. It is one of 28 groups officially declared a "foreign terrorist organization" by the State Department. Its goal is to destroy Israel and to put in place an Islamic Palestinian state. Its methods include assassination, raids, bombing, and suicide bombing. It also runs a network of mosques and social service organizations, such as medical clinics. Its Web site  lists "The Glory Record," 85 incidents of terror. Hamas opposed the Palestinian Liberation Organization's (PLO) 1988 acceptance of the United Nations resolutions acknowledging Israel's right to exist and further objected to the 1993 peace agreement and mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO. In recent years Palestinian security forces have cooperated with Israel to help keep Hamas in check. Last week, as violence accelerated, Arafat released a number of Hamas prisoners but this week, acceding to Israel's demands, re-arrested some. Hamas has fund-raising networks in the United States and Europe, which supplies about a third of its $30-million annual budget. It also gets money from Iran and Saudi-born terrorist Osama Bin Laden.

Hezbollah, also spelled Hizballah, means "party of God." It is a Shiite Muslim organization headquartered in Lebanon whose goal is a fundamentalist Islamic state there and beyond and the obliteration of Israel. It was created in 1982 after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and last May forced the Israeli withdrawal from that country. Hezbollah is also on the State Department's foreign terrorist organization list, and its head, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, received his own title as a Specially Designated Terrorist, meaning he has supported violent means to threaten the Middle East peace process. Enlarging its role in the current turmoil, Hezbollah just kidnapped three Israeli sergeants and a lieutenant colonel in the air force reserve and says in exchange for information on the soldiers it wants release of all Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. It trains Hamas militants and is seeking to further arm Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. For those Palestinians without guns, Hezbollah encourages them to stab Israelis to death. The group is believed responsible for the 1983 suicide bombing of an American Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 American military personnel, as well as the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992. Hezbollah has extremely close ties with Iran, from which it gets everything from diplomatic aid to weapons to an estimated $100 million a year; Syria is a substantial supporter as well. Hezbollah also runs social service organizations and has its own satellite television station, which broadcasts training of suicide bombers.

Fatah, also known as Al-Fatah, is an acronym for Palestine National Liberation Movement; the word itself means "conquest." Founded in the 1950s by, among others, Yasser Arafat, its goal was the creation of a Palestinian state; its means were terrorist war largely against Israeli civilians. It was a rival with the PLO, which was founded in 1964 by then Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, until Arafat took over the PLO in 1969, joining the two groups. Fatah remains a Palestinian political faction and in recent days has called for a renewed intifada. An increasingly active offshoot is the Tanzim, which means "organization." It is a hard-line militia group responsible for the destruction of the Jewish site Joseph's Tomb. Made up of an estimated 50,000 young men in the occupied territories, Tanzim members fire at Israeli soldiers from crowds. The Israeli government says such militias violate the peace accords and are demanding their disarming. Arafat says he can't control this "spontaneous" rage. The Tanzim runs summer camps that train teen-agers in how to use automatic weapons; the organization is now seeking ties with Hamas and other terrorist groups.

Islamic Jihad means "Islamic Holy War." It is a name used by many disparate groups throughout the Arab world, some of which have been designated as foreign terrorist organizations by the State Department. The first Jihad movement was founded in Egypt in the 1960s, but with the Iranian revolution in the late 1970s, the movement gained momentum. The groups' goal is to conquer secular Arab governments and replace them with a fundamentalist Islamic one. They see the destruction of Israel as the first step toward that goal. Hezbollah sometimes undertakes terrorist actions either using the Islamic Jihad name or in cooperation with factions in Lebanon. Palestinian Islamic Jihad, founded in 1979, is a small group devoted exclusively to terrorist activities. It is headquartered in Syria and receives much of its funding from Iran.

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