A living room in a house in the refugee camp of Shati in the Gaza Strip has become the center of focus of the world media in recent days.
Journalists with laptops, television reporters and their cameramen have found a temporary home in the Shati refugee camp - the poorest and most dense residential area in the world, where 80,000 people share 800 dunham (about 198 acres) of land.
Pictures of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and the al-Aqsa mosque hang on the walls of the living room where everyday thousands of Palestinian well-wishers, students, and politicians visit the man in charge of forming the next Palestinian government.
Ismail Haniyeh’s closest aides find it hard to believe that the man who until recently spent most of his time in hiding, has become the center of unprecedented public attention.
Former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter told Israel’s leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that “Haniyeh should praise God twice a day that he is alive.”
And Dichter makes it no secret that “Israel gave up more than once targeted assassination operations against him for fear that innocent civilians would lose their lives.”
In Israel’s calendar, Haniyeh’s last day in life was supposed to be on September 6, 2003.
“This man was part of Hamas’ murder machine,” Dichter says.
The 250 kg (about 550 pounds) bomb unleashed by the IDF aircraft on September 6, 2003, hit a Gaza house where Hamas’ top brass – “the dream team” as Dichter likes to call it - was holding a meeting.
The bomb hit its target but failed to make its way to the underground floor where Haniyeh and his comrades hashed over the group’s strategy in the midst of the intifada.
'He knows he will be arrested'
Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin and Hamas top figure Abdel Aziz Rantisi escaped unharmed, as did Haniyeh. Yassin and Rantisi’s luck ran out the second time around when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the liquidation of Hamas’ two most prominent figures.
Haniyeh, third on the IDF’s assassination list, was saved by an Egyptian-brokered truce, to which Hamas agreed.
“I see no situation in which Haniyeh enjoys immunity just because he is the prime minister. In my eyes he was and remains a terrorist, whatever he does. Exactly like Marwan Barghouti. If there is a terror attack and Israel decides to reply with a targeted assassination, Haniyeh will be a legitimate target, because Hamas cannot carry out an attack without the leadership’s consent,” Dichter says.
A Haniyeh close aide says the new Palestinian prime minister “knows he enjoys no immunity” as far as Israel is concerned.
“He knows he will be arrested and therefore he won’t leave Gaza. He is convinced Israel will try to kill him. Haniyeh is waiting for this; he is neither scared nor hiding,” the aide said.
But Haniyeh is certainly not delivering his head on a silver platter. Four burly bodyguards constantly watch over the 43-year-old.
Anat Tal-Shir contributed to this report