Hamas' so-called "military wing" released a statement, the first of its kind according to Palestinian observers, calling on Arabs and Muslims to attack American targets in the Middle East in response to an Israeli artillery strike that killed at least 19 Palestinians.
"The US provides political and logistical cover for the crimes committed by the Zionist occupation and it must be blamed for the Beit Hanoun massacres," the Hamas military wing said in a statement.
The statement urged Arabs and Muslims to "teach the American enemy merciless lessons they will not forget."
The Israel Defense Forces earlier yesterday used artillery shells to target a site in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip from which Qassam rockets were fired yesterday at Ashkelom, a nearby, populated Jewish city. The Israeli shells hit a residential area about a third of a mile from the targeted zone. IDF sources said the army was investigating if the wrong coordinates were fed to the artillery unit and whether the error was human or technical.
Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni expressed regret for the deaths, saying Israel did not set out to harm innocent civilians.
But Palestinian groups vowed revenge.
Members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the declared "military wing" of Abbas' Fatah party, told WND they joined Hamas in its calls to target US interests. The Islamic Jihad terror group also said they were calling for attacks against American interests.
Sources close to Hamas told WND the striking of American targets was discussed by the terror group in recent days "at the highest levels."
They said yesterday's statement calling for revenge against the US was not endorsed by all members of Hamas' military wing, but they warned if the US doesn't back the Hamas-led Palestinian government and cease what they called the "financial strangulation" of the Hamas government then attacks against US interests may be carried out.
Palestinian security officials, speaking to WND on condition of anonymity, told WND the calls for attacks against US interests were mostly out of frustration stemming from Hamas' belief America was urging Abbas to dismantle the Hamas-led government.
Hamas won a majority of Palestinian parliamentary seats in elections earlier this year.
According to multiple press reports Abbas has been considering dismantling the PA. As Palestinian president, Abbas has the authority to abolish the PA and establish an emergency government that he would head for three months, at which point new elections would be held. Under certain circumstances, Abbas can maintain and lead the emergency government indefinitely, usurping Hamas' power.
The U.S. has reportedly offered about USD 28 million in financial aid to Abbas' Fatah party to bolster it against Hamas. In September Fatah and Hamas engaged in heavy gunbattles in the Gaza Strip and West Bank after negotiations to establish a national unity government between them appeared to have fallen through.
Last month Time Magazine reported members of Hamas were debating whether to carry out attacks against the US in the Middle East following America's support for Abbas' rival Fatah party.
The Time report quoted several anonymous Hamas sources explaining clandestine meetings were held in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to discuss the possibility of targeting the U.S. due to its perceived "one-sided" support of Israel and reported calls for Abbas to dissolve the Hamas-led Palestinian government.
The report said the Israeli intelligence estimate is that Hamas will restrain from targeting the US, but if its government is toppled such restraint could dissipate.
Speaking openly to WorldNetDaily last month, Abu Abdullah, a leader of Hamas' so-called military wing in Gaza, confirmed the Time report.
"The Americans are supporting Israel unfairly and are playing a leading role in the conspiracy against the (Hamas-led) Palestinian government. All Palestinians feel a hatred toward the American government and wouldn't mind attacks (against it), but for now we are limiting our fight to Palestine," said Abu Abdullah, who is considered one of the most important operational members of Hamas' Izz al-Din al-Qassam Martyrs Brigades, Hamas' declared "resistance" department.
Abu Abdullah warned WND that if the Hamas government is "toppled" with the help of the US then "all options are open."
Experts: Hamas capable of attacks inside US
While the report warned of attacks against American interests in the region, some terrorism experts and senior security officials previously told WND Hamas has cells inside the US that are technically capable of attacking within the country.
"We have information Hamas agents have been on US soil the past few years and that the group may currently have up to 100 agents operating inside America," an FBI counterterrorism agent in New York told WND last October.
The comments reaffirm earlier testimony to the US Senate in which FBI Director Robert Mueller stated, "Although it would be a major strategic shift for Hamas, its United States network is theoretically capable of facilitating acts of terrorism in the United States."
Mueller last February described a Hamas network the FBI believes may be operating in the U.S. mostly for fundraising purposes. While many suspected Hamas-linked charities such as the national Holy Land Foundation have been shut down, the FBI suspects others are still functioning in America.
Holy Land was one of the largest Islamic charitable organizations in the US, and closed amid accusations the group was a front for Hamas.
Intelligence sources said the FBI believes Hamas' current US network includes trained jihadists capable of carrying out advanced attacks. Some of the Hamas agents are suspected of involvement with al-Qaeda, the sources said.
Yehudit Barsky, director of the Middle East and International Terrorism Center at the American Jewish Committee said, "Hamas does have people in America who are Muslim Brotherhood-oriented who support Hamas and who could carry out attacks. ... This presence in the US exists."
Terrorism expert Steve Emerson, whose research was credited with helping to close Holy Land, told WND, "Hamas has an extensive infrastructure in the US mostly revolving around the activities of fundraising, recruiting and training members, directing operations against Israel, organizing political support and operating through human-rights front groups. While Hamas has not acted outside Israel, it has the capability of carrying out attacks in America if it decided to enlarge the scope of its operations."
The have been previous indications Hamas indeed has agents operating inside the US.
In August 2004, Ismail Selim Elbarasse, a long-time Hamas money man, was arrested reportedly after authorities witnessed his wife videotaping Maryland's Chesapeake Bay Bridge from their SUV as Elbarasse drove. The images captured by Mr. Elbarasse's wife included close-ups of cables and other features "integral to the structural integrity of the bridge," according to court papers.
In an FBI affidavit requesting a search warrant for Elbarasse's house obtained by WND, special FBI agent Shawn Devroude states, "In previous years, al-Qaeda commanders and officials stationed in Western countries, including the United States, have recruited Hamas operatives and volunteers to carry out reconnaissance or serve as couriers.
"With the increased law enforcement pressure since 9/11, there has been a renewed emphasis by al-Qaida to find confirmed jihadist supporters in the U.S. by trying to enlist proven members of other groups such as Hamas to make up for the vacuum on the field level."
Also in August, 2004, two suspected high-level Hamas operatives, Mohammed Salah and Abdelhaleem Ashqar, were detained in America and charged with providing material support to Hamas, racketeering and money laundering.
Ashqar, under house arrest in Virginia, denied to WND he was involved with Hamas fundraising and claimed doesn't know of any Hamas networks operating in America.
In November 2003, Jamal Aqal, a Canadian immigrant born in Gaza, was arrested in Israel under suspicion of receiving weapons and explosives training from Hamas for use in future terror attacks in Canada and New York City. Aqal pleaded guilty in 2004 to planning to kill American and Canadian Jewish leaders and Israeli officials traveling in the US.
Reprinted by permission of WorldNetDaily