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By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.

These days witness the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas). In this extensive academic article, we present the history of the beginnings of the Movement’s military activity.

The question of military action (jihad) was present from the beginning with Sheikh Ahmad Yasin who took over the leadership of the Muslim Brothers (MB) movement in Gaza Strip (GS) since September 1967, succeeding Isma‘il al-Khalidi. Sheikh Yasin was eager for military action in GS, but the MB leadership in GS and the leadership of the Palestinian MB abroad saw, in light of the weak capabilities and the small number of MB, that the priority was to educational action, rebuilding the organization and establishing a strong ground and public support for military work. The question of military action also remained present for a number of MB, who participated in the foundation of the Fatah movement, who left it, abiding by the MB’s decision, such as Suleiman Hamad; and for those who remained in the MB movement and were previously in its secret military action in early 1950s, such as Khairy al-Agha, Muhammad al-Khudari and Fawzi Jabr. However, despite the above decision, there was quite a military MB participation in the Shuyukh Camps (1968–1970) in Jordan, under the cover of the Fatah movement.

In the late 1970s, the MB became more self-confident as their popularity grew and organization expanded. Thus, the aspiration for military action returned, especially in 1978, when the Palestinian MB movement and the MB movement in Jordan became united, under the name of the Bilad al-Sham (MB) organization. The regional atmosphere was also pro-military action, including the escalation of jihad in Afghanistan, the success of the revolution in Iran, and the battles and confrontations of the Palestinian resistance in Lebanon. Also, there was public anger and defiance triggered by the Camp David Accords and Egypt’s adoption of the peace process.

The Gaza Strip:

Sheikh Ahmad Yasin is considered the founder of the military action in Palestine, by establishing the military apparatus in GS. In late 1982–early 1983, Sheikh Yasin began to give priority to military action, and he formed a secret committee under his leadership responsible for the military action and consisting of ‘Abdul Rahman Tamraz, Ibrahim al-Maqadmeh and Ahmad al-Meleh. In April 1983, Yasin dispatched Tamraz to Jordan where he asked for funds to buy weapons. He met Yusuf al-‘Azm, the secretary of the MB movement, who gave him initial support. Afterwards, when the Bilad al-Sham (MB) organization in Kuwait learned about the matter, it decided to support the military action in GS, where ‘Umar al-Ashqar had a major role in providing the funds. It sent no less than 30 thousand Kuwaiti dinars (about $100 thousand) through Yusuf al-‘Azm. Consequently, 80 weapons were purchased while and a number of cadres were trained in GS and abroad. However, this act was exposed, and a number of members were arrested at intervals, the last of whom was Ahmad Yasin in mid-July 1984. Yasin was sentenced to 13 years, Tamraz to 12 years, Muhammad Shehab to 10 years, Ibrahim al-Maqadmeh to eight and a half years and Salah Shehadeh two years. Sheikh Ahmad Yasin was released in the prisoner exchange that took place on 20/5/1985, between the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command (PFLP–GC) and Israel.

There were other cells that were not arrested and continued to operate, such as al-Meghrafa Group led by ‘Adnan al-Ghul. It carried out a number of operations in 1985–1986, including targeting a military truck, shooting an intelligence officer and killing a number of collaborators.

After the formation of “the Palestine Apparatus” in late 1985, which took charge of directing action for Palestine at home and abroad, the leadership decided to “invite all its members in all areas of occupied Palestine to participate in demonstrations and clashes with the occupying enemy and even to call for such action.” In light of this, the leadership in GS unanimously agreed in 1986 to start military action. The military apparatus was rebuilt under the name of the “Palestinian Mujahidun [Freedom fighters],” and Ahmad Yasin returned to lead it in mid-June 1987. On 17/11/1987, the military action was launched. Yasin entrusted Salah Shehadeh to form the military apparatus in northern GS, and ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Rantisi in southern GS. Due to al-Rantisi’s administrative detention on 15/1/1988, the leadership of this region was entrusted to Salah Shehadeh who thus became the field commander of the military apparatus in GS.

Before the start of the First Intifadah on 9/12/1987, Salah Shehadeh had formed military groups, including the Beit Hanoun Group, which was led by Subhi al-Yazji and carried out several military operations; the Jabalia Refugee Camp Group, which was led by Fathi Hammad and also carried out several operations; and the Jabalia Group (Group 101) led by Muhammad al-Sharataha and operated months before the Intifadah and attacked settler cars in September 1987.

At the request of Yasin in 1983, Tamraz formed “Al-Da‘wah Security Service,” and Yahya Sinwar had a key role in its leadership. Following his exit in the exchange deal after about ten months (20/5/1985), Yasin responded to the pressure of his comrades to lead this apparatus. In 1986, the “Jihad and Da‘wah Organization (Majd) was formed as a striking military force affiliated with the security apparatus, headed by Sinwar and including Ruhi Mushtaha. Its mission was to fight “corruption and corrupt people,” then its tasks developed to fight also the collaborators and so on.

On 21/3/1988, Group 101 of the “Palestinian Mujahidun,” led by Salah Shehadeh, attempted to kidnap an Israeli engineer and contractor in the Sheikh Radwan area in GS. However, the operation encountered difficulties was not accomplished, so the group opened fire and wounded the target. That was followed by the detonation of explosive devices in Beit Hanoun in May 1988, and on Eid al-Adha on 25/7/1988, then on the anniversary of the Prophet’s migration on 14/8/1988. The group also killed an Israeli settler on 18/8/1988 near the Beit Lahiya area in northern GS, kidnapped and killed the Israeli Sergeant Avi Sasportas on 3/2/1989, and kidnapped and killed the soldier Ilan Sa‘adon on 3/5/1989. However, in May 1989, this military wing, and Hamas in general, were attacked by the Israeli forces, who arrested more than a thousand of the Movement’s cadres and members, and hundreds of them were interrogated using brutal methods. This led to the revealing of the Movement’s organizational structure for the first time, and Sheikh Ahmad Yasin was arrested on 18/5/1989 and was sentenced to life imprisonment, in addition to 15 years.

Consequently, a leading figure of “the Palestine Apparatus” that overlooks the action inside Palestine within the Bilad al-Sham (MB) organization abroad, Musa Abu Marzuq, travelled to the Palestinian territories, reorganized the movement and linked directing military action to the leadership abroad. The coordination was arranged between the West Bank (WB) and GS through secret communication between Hassan al-Qeeq in WB and Sayyid Abu Musameh who led the action in GS.

According to researchers, the security group which was formed in Rafah and had a military aspect under the leadership of Ramadan al-Yazuri, was the first to announce the name “Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades,” when in October 1990 the group carried out a shooting attack, killing a collaborator near al-Jawazat roundabout in Rafah. Apparently, the name “Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades” was used after both parts of the movement, in Palestine and abroad, agreed on it. Abu Marzuq (who took charge of the military action and its funds inside Palestine) confirmed that there was discussion at that time to choose between this name and the ‘Abdullah Azzam Brigades, and the matter was decided by adopting the name of al-Qassam. Al-Yazuri group’s announcement of the name might be the first manifestation of this agreement and thus, this name replaced the “Palestinian Mujahidun.”

The West Bank:

The military action in WB was delayed compared to GS, but it quickly spread after the outbreak of the Intifadah late 1987. It initially took the form of individual or organized initiatives influenced by internal mobilization and Hamas’s calls for military resistance.

One of the first initiatives was the formation of “Beit Ummar” Group in Hebron, led by Badr Abu ‘Ayyash, and whose first operations date back to March 1988. Other initiatives include that by Ahmad Shukri, who killed an Israeli worker in Tel Aviv, a former recruit in the Israeli army, on 7/9/1989; attacking a military patrol, on 5/4/1990, by Samir al-Osta Group in Nablus, causing serious injuries; and the attack by ‘Amer Abu Sarhan, who killed three Israelis and wounded a fourth on 21/10/1990.

However, it seems that the first group to take an organizational form and to be directed by the WB leadership is the ‘Adel ‘Awadallah Group, whose foundation dates back to late 1988–early 1989, as per the leader of the WB action from mid-1989 to mid-1991.

There were also al-Buraq Groups formed under the supervision of Hamas leadership in Hebron. They were led by Naji Sunnukrot, who was trained abroad and, in the spring of 1990, the Movement’s leadership abroad asked him to go to WB. A large number of fighters were recruited, large quantities of weapons were purchased, and training took place in the mid-1990s. However, after one of the Groups threw hand grenades at an Israeli military patrol near al-Ibrahimi Mosque, the formation was struck and its leaders and a number of groups were arrested, others remained unrevealed and later joined the founding cells of al-Qassam Brigades in 1992.

After his release in March 1991, Muhammad Abu Tair, in cooperation with ‘Adel ‘Awadallah and in coordination with the leadership in Jordan, established an organized military action. However, Abu Tair, ‘Awadallah and their companions were arrested after they had an arms deal that was exposed.

The stable form of al-Qassam Brigades in WB was due to the meeting in prison of Saleh al-‘Arouri, the leader of the Islamic Bloc at Hebron University, with ‘Adel ‘Awadallah, the leader of the Islamic Bloc at Bethlehem University, and Ibrahim Hamid, the leader of the Islamic Bloc at Birzeit University. The three decided to activate military action after their release from prison and to reconfigure the administrative office of the Islamic Bloc in Ramallah and its villages headed by al-‘Arouri, in 1991. Being the leaders, they nominated the members of military action, provided that al-‘Arouri would lead the apparatus and ‘Awadallah would be his deputy, while Hamid would handle communications with abroad. Al-‘Arouri recruited Musa Dudin and ‘Abbas Shabaneh from Hebron, received a number of al-Qassam fugitives from GS and took charge of sheltering and arming them, coordinated action in the northern WB with Zaher Jabarin and ‘Adnan Mar‘ie, and coordinated action with GS.

The leadership of the Movement abroad followed up the action of Saleh al-‘Arouri and his comrades, under the supervision of Musa Abu Marzuq. It sent Muhammad Salah with funds to support the military action in WB. The first military action in WB, under al-Qassam Brigades name, was on 22/9/1992, by Muhammad Bisharat, killing an Israeli soldier. Then, the action continued, despite al-‘Arouri’s arrest in October 1992 and his administrative detention.


The leadership of the MB movement in Jordan had a fundamental role in advancing and developing the Islamic resistance action to liberate Palestine. It provided it with quite a support, especially since the unification of the Palestinian and Jordanian MB organizations in 1978.

In the late of 1979, preparations began for the establishment of military action by the MB movement members living in Kuwait, in which Khalid Mish‘al had a major role, and supported by Suleiman Hamad. The leadership began to send selected cadres (from abroad) in complete secrecy, since 1980, for military training. It trained many cadres from a number of countries, and dedicated a number of individuals for security and military action.

A nucleus was formed to sponsor military action during the period 1981–1982, led by Mish‘al. In 1984–1985, it expanded the training to include selected cadres from a number of countries abroad. After its formation to be in charge of the MB action inside Palestine, “the Palestine Apparatus” established a central committee for military action under the supervision of Mish‘al and headed by an undisclosed member. In 1986–1987, the committee continued to recruit members from inside Palestine, especially those who reside and study abroad and could return, encouraging them to return to Palestine. Security action abroad was established in 1983, and a specialized team was formed. In 1986, security action had a central role in “the Palestine Apparatus,” but was within the military action committee. At the same time, members benefited from the military experience of the cadres of Jarmak Battalion (Student Battalion), who fought within Fatah in southern Lebanon and then its leadership adopted the Islamic ideology.

In Lebanon, within the framework of al-Jama‘ah al-Islamiyyah (lit. The Islamic Group), young Palestinian members participated in the Mujahidun Organization 1976–1982, then in al-Fajr Forces 1982–1991. They had important roles in the resistance action and the defense of the Palestinian refugee camps. These were an asset to Hamas when Palestinian members of al-Jama‘ah al-Islamiyyah in Lebanon joined Hamas.


In general, the main organizer of the action in that period was “the Palestine Apparatus,” led by Khairy al-Agha, supervising the action inside and outside Palestine. This apparatus was affiliated with the Bilad al-Sham (MB) organization led by the Executive Office in Jordan.

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 19/12/2022

The opinions expressed in all the publications and studies are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of al-Zaytouna Centre.

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