Avi Issacharoff
June 4, 2009 - 12:00am

Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal recently relieved two brigade commanders in the Gaza Strip on Iranian recommendations, Palestinian sources said Wednesday. The two officers, Bassam Issa and Imat Aakel, were removed from their positions following the recommendation of Iranian Revolutionary Guard officials who participated in the investigation of the perceived Hamas military failure during Operation Cast Lead. The two officers have been known to lead military wing formations in two of the Strip's refugee camps, Nuseirat and Bureij, and became brigade commanders when the Hamas regular military force was established.

During Operation Cast Lead, Hamas forces avoided confrontation with the IDF and did not incur great casualties among the Israeli troops. Because of the perceived failure, the organization's leadership decided to initiate a thorough investigation of the conduct of its men during the operation.

Palestinian sources said Meshal consulted Hassan Mahdawi, commander of the "Jerusalem Column" in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a unit stationed in Lebanon. After the investigation was concluded, the Hamas leadership decided to change the organizational structure of the military wing and remove a number of field commanders.

Issa and Aakel have also recently been at odds with Hamas' new interior minister, Fathi Hammad, who had tried to extend his authority over the organization's military wing. The ongoing disagreements between the Hamas government and senior commanders in the military wing resulted in the unauthorized firing of a Grad-type rocket at Ashkelon about three months ago. The launch was carried out as a protest by the military wing against the constraints set by the government.

Palestinian sources said Hammad decided to prosecute any persons involved in criminal activity, including activists from the military wing. He also banned the use of dark windows in all Gaza vehicles - popular among Hamas activists. The sources said Hammad enjoyed the support of the commander of the military wing, Ahmed Al-Jabari, while some local commanders, like Aakel and Issa, disagreed. Fatah sources claim Hamas' internal crisis was further aggravated by other senior leadership figures, who blame their lack of recent promotion on Hammad.


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