Gaza group targeted by Israel born with intifada

AFP , Friday 19 Aug 2011

The Popular Resistance Committees, the Gaza-based group blamed by Israel for Thursday's shootings which killed eight Israelis near Eilat, sprang up in 2000 as an offshoot of the Fatah movement

Militants from the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) train in Gaza
Militants from the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) train in Gaza (AFP photo)

The armed faction emerged at the start of the second Palestinian uprising as a violent splinter group from the mainstream Fatah party which is headed by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

It was one of several militant groups involved in the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006, and was accused by Israel on Thursday of launching a deadly spate of shooting attacks on a desert road near Eilat with the aim of snatching another soldier.

Since its formation in September 2000, the PRC's sole raison d'etre appears to be organising anti-Israeli attacks, and over the years it has attracted breakaway members from all the main factions including the nationalist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, as well as Hamas and the radical Islamic Jihad.

The wide-ranging background of its membership has allowed it to frequently collaborate with other groups.

In June 2006, PRC militants participated in a deadly cross-border operation with the armed wing of Hamas and a previously-unknown group called the Army of Islam which saw them kill two Israeli soldiers and capture Shalit, who is still being held at a secret location in Gaza.

The Army of Islam had been set up several months earlier by PRC leader Jamal Abu Samhadana as a small offshoot, with sources within the movement saying they were largely considered to be one and the same.

Two weeks before the Shalit operation, Samhadana, who had survived two previous assassination attempts, was killed along with three other militants in an Israeli air strike in the southern city of Rafah.

On Thursday, Israel launched another airstrike on a building in Rafah, killing the group's current leader, Kamal al-Neyrab, and three other senior operatives, in what the military said was retaliation for the attacks in the Negev desert.

Before Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, the group made a name for itself by perpetrating some of the deadliest and most high-profile attacks against the Israeli soldiers and settlers living there.

In May 2004, its gunmen killed an Israeli mother and her four daughters, outside a Gaza settlement.

A year earlier, its militants claimed responsibility for a roadside bomb which killed three US citizens in a convoy of US officials.

But since the Israeli withdrawal six years ago, the group has concentrated its efforts on firing homemade rockets at Israeli communities flanking Gaza.

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