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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Why Alan Johnston was released

Why after nearly four months in captivity was Alan Johnston - seen in the photo at top left celebrating with 'moderate' ex-'Palestinian' Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh - suddenly released? Several reasons have come to light this morning.

First and foremost, the London Arabic daily al-Quds al-Arabi (link to Arabic home page only) reports this morning that at the British government's request, the Syrian government put pressure on Hamas to bring the story to an end.

Second, Hamas hoped that arranging for Johnston's release would convince the western powers to stop isolating Hamastan. The New York Times reports this morning that has not happened - yet:
While Hamas presented the release as proof of its ability to restore order in the Gaza Strip now that it is solely in charge there, Western and Israeli officials said Mr. Johnston’s freedom would not translate into international recognition and support for the group, which the United States, Israel and the European Union still classify as a terrorist organization and formally boycott.

“It would be premature to expect an immediate impact on relations between the European Union and Hamas,” said Cristina Gallach, the spokeswoman for the Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.

David Baker, an Israeli government spokesman, said the release of Mr. Johnston, who spent 114 days in the hands of a shadowy group called the Army of Islam, was “something the Israelis had been hoping and praying for.” But he said Hamas was “the same terrorist organization that orchestrated and perpetrated” the seizure of an Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, just over a year ago.

Nevertheless, Hamas has undoubtedly given its image a boost and gained in respectability.

In London the new British foreign secretary, David Miliband, acknowledged what he called “the crucial role” of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, and of Ismail Haniya of Hamas, whom Mr. Abbas dismissed as prime minister after the Hamas takeover of Gaza.

Ms. Gallach said the efforts to secure Mr. Johnston’s release “by the international community, local Palestinian leaders and Hamas won’t go unmentioned or unrecognized.”
Third, Israel's Channel 10 (cable television news) reported last night that Hamas gave a substantial amount of cash and weapons to the Dugmash clan, which held Johnston. Ahmed Bahr, a top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, denies that Hamas paid the Dugmash's. (It's also not clear whether money and weapons were paid to the Dugmash's for Johnston or for kidnapped IDF corporal Gilad Shalit or for both or for neither. See the discussion of Shalit below).

Fourth, so long as Hamas and Fatah were at war in the Gaza Strip, the Dugmash clan was able to play each of them off against the other. Once the Gaza Strip became Hamastan, Hamas no longer needed the Dugmash's, but it was kind enough to find them a way to release Johnston 'honorably' (there's that word again):
The leader of the Army of Islam, Mumtaz Doghmush, used to spend time with the heads of the Hamas military wing, Ahmed al-Ja'abari, Ahmed al A'ndur and others.

One of their bonding experiences occured when the vehicle the three were riding in was attacked by members of the Doghmush clan who were affiliated with Fatah, and did not know that Mumtaz was a passenger.

And that was the point at which the blood feud between the Army of Islam and Hamas began.

Suddenly, the Doghmush clan in Hamas descriptions became an obstacle to public order, "collaborators with Fatah." However, the well-armed clan knew full well that so long as Hamas and Fatah were at each other's throats for control of the Strip, they could benefit from the chaos in the streets.

No one tried to confront them, or seek the release of kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston. On the contrary: Each one of the groups needed the clan's services and hoped to get its support in the war against the rival organization.


Hamas managed to gain the release of the BBC reporter though negotiations Gaza-style. A correct combination of stick, carrot and ladder. The stick: the gunmen of the Executive Force, which Hamas deployed around the Doghmush clan's compound and used to threaten an assault.

The carrot: guarantees that the clan will not be harmed after Johnston's release, and that it will be allowed to keep some weapons. And the ladder that enabled Mumtaz Doghmush, a devout Muslim, to climb down from the tree on which he found himself: the religious figure who acted as the mediator between Hamas and the Army of Islam allegedly issued a fatwa (a religious decree) demanding that Doghmush release the foreign journalist.
The question here in Israel is whether any of this may bring about the release of Gilad Shalit. In an interview with Channel 10 last night, Dugmash clan leader Abu Mutfana said that Shalit had been handed over to Hamas, and urged the Shalit family to pressure the government because to release 'Palestinian' prisoners terrorists in exchange for Shalit because otherwise the Army of Islam (which is the Dugmash clan) would take action. A Channel 10 commentator also claimed that Hamas had offered the Dugmash's money and weapons in exchange for Shalit. It is not clear whether money and weapons were delivered or even that Shalit has actually been turned over to Hamas. Hamas and the Army of Islam were two of the three groups that collaborated on Shalit's kidnapping last year.


At 4:18 PM, Blogger bob said...

Very interesting stuff.

I've been searching on the web about this and getting more and more confused. Are the Durmush clan and the Dugmush clan the same people?

At 6:36 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


As far as I know, yes. The letter combination gh is pronounced r in Arabic. That's likely the source of the confusion.


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