Alleged Hamas activists surface among Israeli Arab population

UM-EL-FAHM, Israel — The arrests of two prominent Israeli Arabs who allegedly aided Hamas have raised questions of dual loyalties among the Jewish state's Arab community.

Israel has arrested Suleiman Ahmad Agbariya, the national chairman of the humanitarian group the Islamic Salvation Committee, on charges of transferring more than $3 million to Hamas over the past four years.

The arrest last week in the wake of the recent string of terrorist bombings in Israel was part of an all-out crackdown on Hamas by Israel.

Last week Israeli security agents also arrested Said Suleimani, a resident of the Israeli Arab village of Manshiya a-Zabda, near Haifa.

Suleimani is suspected of having smuggled from Gaza into Israel the suicide bomber who carried out the March 4 bombing at Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Center.

But unlike anti-Hamas actions by Israeli and Palestinian security officials in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the arrests of Agbariya and a-Zabda, both Israeli citizens, came in the heart of Israel.

Agbariya is deputy mayor of Um-el-Fahm, one of seven Arab municipalities where the Islamic Movement won local elections in 1993. With 35,000 people, Um-el-Fahm, between Hadera and Afula, is Israel's second largest Arab population center.

Agbariya's movement adheres to fundamentalist principles but opposes violence. It gained a following among Israeli Arabs, particularly in economically depressed communities such as Um-el-Fahm, where the movement provided social, educational and medical services.

Though the Israeli Interior Ministry conceded the movement has run the municipal affairs of Um-el-Fahm and other towns in an exemplary fashion, the movement's links to Islamic groups in the Gaza Strip and West Bank have troubled Israeli Jews, especially after the recent wave of suicide bombings.

The arrests also raised questions about how closely linked Hamas is with the Islamic Movement in Israel, and about to what degree Hamas has recruited collaborators among Israel's 805,000 Arab citizens.

An anti-terrorist outcry in Arab communities across Israel has reinforced the fact that historically, less than 1 percent of the Arab minority has engaged in any terrorism.

Two days after the Dizengoff attack, six Muslim religious leaders gathered in the Israeli Arab village of Kafr Kassem, near Petach Tikva, and issued an edict condemning the terrorist attacks as having violated Islamic law.

Last week, Arab villages across Israel held rallies to protest terrorism and support the peace process.

Still, Islamic Movement adherents in Um-el-Fahm voiced concerns about the government's actions.

"Why is it that whenever there are terrorist attacks, they come here to make arrests?" asked Said Agbariya, a relative of the detained man.

Ahmad Jabarin, another young resident of the Arab town, said he would be the first to condemn anyone who assisted the "murderers of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem."

Israeli police suspected Agbariya of having raised funds in Israel as well as in the United States and Western Europe. The funds were eventually transferred to families of Hamas terrorists, police said.

Ever since the intifada, or Palestinian uprising, began in December 1987, hundreds of millions of dollars have poured into the West Bank and Gaza for what is described as humanitarian causes for Arabs living in Israel.

Agbariya says his fund-raising efforts were not different from his humanitarian activities, such as aid for 8,500 orphans "including 350 children of collaborators with Israel."

Agbariya said the Islamic Salvation Committee began operating six years ago, long before the Hamas suicide attacks began in 1994.

But Sheik Raed Salah Mahajneh, mayor of Um-el-Fahm, said the funds might have reached orphans of Hamas suicide bombers, suggesting that Hamas militants received some money because none of the bombers had children.

Meanwhile, a man jailed in New York for possible extradition to Israel on charges of aiding Hamas denies that Hamas raises money in the United States.

Musa Abu Marzook, 45, a Virginia resident, allegedly transfered more than $700,000 to a bank account he held with Muhammed Kalil Salah, who has been jailed in Israel and who says the money was to be used to recruit terrorists, buy weapons and finance military operations.