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Region watches for sparks as Palestinian factions mourn Soleimani

The assassination of Iran's Qasem Soleimani has prompted many sad reactions among the various Palestinian factions, but so far all are resisting the urge to avenge him.

The Palestinian factions’ reactions came in rapid succession following the Jan. 3 assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force. Hamas immediately denounced the killing of Soleimani, who it praised for his “prominent role in supporting the Palestinian resistance in various fields.”

Palestinian Islamic Jihad mourned Soleimani and stated that it will continue to face US and Israeli aggression and that the resistance axis will move ahead on the path toward freeing Palestine. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) took the assassination as a qualitative shift in US aggression against the armed factions that requires a coordinated and comprehensive response targeting the US and Zionist presence and interests in the region.

While the majority of the factions condemned Soleimani’s assassination, the Fatah movement, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which is not on good terms with Iran, remained silent.

It is only natural for the Palestinian factions to express condolences for Soleimani’s assassination and solidarity with Iran. There were close ties between Palestinians and Soleimani, who served as liaison officer with the Iranian leadership and communicated with their political and military leadership around the clock. Yet will the reactions be limited to statements or will they turn into military moves against Israel?

Mahmoud Mardawi, a member of Hamas’ National Relations Office, told Al-Monitor, “Soleimani’s assassination is a major event that will have considerable repercussions on the regional landscape and the Palestinians will not be spared. Although the US killed Soleimani, Israel is a beneficiary of the assassination that is strategically in its interest in the region.”

“Our condolences for Soleimani’s assassination are out of loyalty to him and to Iran, which helped us financially and militarily, and are not generated from any political pressure exerted by Iran to express our solidarity with them,” he added. Mardawi went on, “Although the Palestinians will be affected by the assassination, I don't think that there is coordination among the Palestinian factions to [react], in light of a common perception that the coming developments will be difficult in the region.”

Many Palestinians feel that the United States has crossed a red line with Soleimani’s assassination, given his prominent stature in the Iranian state. It could encourage Israel to carry out similar assassinations against Palestinian leaders and escalate an Israeli-Palestinian face-off. Some Palestinian leaders may have decided to increase their security measures since Israel assassinated Islamic Jihad commander Bahaa Abu al-Atta Nov. 12 in Gaza.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees Mohammad al-Baryam, said, “We expect Soleimani’s assassination to whet the Israelis’ appetite to assassinate the Palestinian resistance’s leaders. Nevertheless, we will not stand idly by and will respond firmly. Soleimani’s assassination is a loss for the Palestinian resistance, as he provided it with needed military and logistic support and helped mobilize it against the US 'deal of the century.'"

“Based on that, retaliating for his killing is the duty of the resistance axis’ parties, wherever they are. Any response by the Palestinian resistance would be subject to arrangements [with other groups], although Iran did not ask us,” he added.

Herzi Halevi, chief of the Israeli Southern Command, told Yedioth Ahronoth Jan. 6 that Israel is prepared to respond to any moves by Gaza’s multiple Palestinian factions that worked with Soleimani.

The London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper quoted Palestinian sources as saying Jan. 5 that Hamas is not concerned with an escalation linked to Soleimani’s assassination, and that had agreed with Egypt to preserve the present truce and moving forward on the truce understandings with Israel. Hamas will not turn Gaza into a battlefield for external conflicts, the sources added to Asharq Al-Awsat.

Israel’s Walla! News reported Jan. 3 that Israel warned, through Egypt, the Palestinian factions against taking action in response to Soleimani’s assassination from Gaza, where calm currently prevails.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, former PLO artillery commander Wassef Erekat in the West Bank said not to expect the Palestinian resistance to respond to Soleimani’s assassination, "at least for the time being.”

“Yet, if a comprehensive battle were ignited in the region, the resistance could find itself involved. As long as Israel is disassociating itself from the assassination, the Palestinians are required to follow suit. Yet, if Israel attacks the resistance forces, it would be logical and legitimate for Palestinians to respond,” Erekat said. He went on, “What is important is that the Palestinians do not initiate a unilateral response to the assassination, although some will see it as a test of their loyalty to Iran and appreciation of the support he provided.”

Hamas led by Ismail Haniyeh and Islamic Jihad led by Ziad al-Nakhaleh, along with their accompanying delegations, took part in Soleimani's funeral in Tehran Jan. 6. A mourning tent was set up in the central Gaza Strip, where Soleimani's photos were hung with the Iranian and Palestinian flags. 

Kayed al-Ghul, a member of the PFLP's political bureau, told Al-Monitor, “Soleimani’s assassination is a big loss for the Palestinian resistance. This is because he posed a major threat to Israel, as he moved from one arena to another in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. … In addition, he provided the resistance with military support, armament and combat equipment.”

He added, “Soleimani’s absence will not reduce Iran’s support for us, which is a central decision by Iran’s sovereign institutions. Avenging his assassination will require strategic cooperation between the Palestinian resistance and regional powers, as a swift reaction would be temporary, not a long-term thing.”

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