WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 (JTA) — A new list of terrorist organizations compiled by the Justice Department includes Hezbollah and other Palestinian organizations that have launched attacks against Israel.
Jewish leaders say the expanded list could be a sign that anti-Israel forces will be targeted in later stages of the U.S.-led war on terror.
Attorney General John Ashcroft named 46 groups as “terrorist organizations” and will utilize new powers to monitor their members’ whereabouts and prevent suspected terrorists from entering the country.
Included in the list is the Palestinian branch of Hezbollah and the Martyrs of Al Aksa. The latter is believed to be closely associated with Fatah, the political party led by Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
Also included are groups called the Umar Al-Mukhtar Forces and the Salah Al-Din Battalions, which some speculate also are connected to Fatah.
The Palestinian Hezbollah, Umar al-Mukhtar Forces and the Martyrs of Al Aksa claimed responsibility for the bombing of an Israeli school bus in Gaza last year that killed two people. The Al Aksa group also claimed responsibility for murdering settler leader Binyamin Kahane, according to the State Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism report. Salah al-Din Battalions claimed responsibility for bombing a bus in Tel Aviv, injuring 13 people, and is accused of carrying out another shooting attack that killed an Israeli.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee commended Ashcroft for “clearly recognizing that terrorism against both Americans and Israelis must be countered.”
“These groups have been involved in numerous heinous attacks against Israelis for years, initiating and organizing armed confrontations with Israeli soldiers and attacks on Israeli civilians,” AIPAC spokesman Rebecca Needler said.
David Schenker, a Palestinian affairs analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said many of the organizations named are prominent in the Middle East.
“I don’t think anything is surprising on here,” Schenker said. “All of these people have been mentioned before.”
Most of the organizations on the list are believed to have ties to the Al Qaida network and Osama bin Laden, considered the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.
The new list is part of the anti-terrorism legislation signed last week by President Bush. The law deals mostly with homeland security and gives the government additional resources for tracking and deporting people linked to terror organizations.
While Israeli and Jewish leaders have been urging the U.S.-led coalition to target Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, the organizations have been left off previous government lists of groups being targeted since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he was not surprised that Hezbollah had been added to the list of terrorist organizations — as Jewish groups had demanded — but was more surprised that Hamas and other groups have not.
Jewish groups hope Israel’s enemies will be targeted in a second phase of attacks that could come after the U.S.-led coalition against terror defeats Al Qaida. Experts say that if the groups cited by Ashcroft indeed are part of Fatah, it would mark an unprecedented shift toward combating Palestinian terrorism.
“It’s a positive sign that they will brand these groups as terrorist organizations,” Schenker said. “The government still hasn’t come to terms with the debate between a war of liberation and terrorism.”
Jewish leaders said they are hopeful that the inclusion of Hezbollah and the other Palestinian groups on the Justice Department’s list will lead to increased monitoring of the groups.