What is the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade?
Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade is a militia, which evolved in 2001 as a part of a linked alliance to Fatah. The group considers itself a loyal part of PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) and functions to drive Israeli’s out of Palestine. While the primary aim of this group was to secure West Bank and Gaza Strip from the Israeli forces, the terrorist attacks from the other party turned it into a more radical association. Brigade comprises of local units that act autonomously under the coalition of Fatah.
The name Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade has been taken from Al-Aqsa Mosque, the contested Holy place for the Arabs and the Jews, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and Temple Mount to Jews. Muslim faith describes this place as the spot from where Prophet Muhammad made his journey to heaven. The Arabic meaning of Al-Aqsa is “the farthest place”. Although Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade is associated with Fatah, it is comprised of units which act independently. However, the direct relationship of Brigade with Fatah is still under debate. The Brigade which emerged as an uprising or “Second Intifada” made Israeli military outposts and settlers as its initial targets. Not receiving any effective outlet, the Brigade joined other major factions like Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Considering the group’s activities as terrorism, U.S State Department listed al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade as a terrorist organization. An agreement was signed between Palestinian Authority and Israel in July 2007, according to which, the Israeli government would release 178 Brigade members in return to them not getting involved in more group activities and rally with the forces to fight against Hamas. There was little progress on the deal made as Palestinian Authority appealed for more Brigade members to be released which was not complied by Israel. Prior to this, an offer was made by the Palestinian Prime Minister himself in October 2005 to extend his part further in the peace process. This deal, which was put forward by Ahmed Qureia, stated that training camps will be set up for the members of Brigade where after they will be incorporated in the Palestinian security forces. The offer was furthered by the Al-Aqsa spokesmen from the Gaza Strip and West Bank where they showed their confidence as to its compliance. However, Israeli government refused to carry out this deal. A pledge was made by Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, in early 2005 to “cease all military activity against all Palestinians everywhere” to Mahmoud Abbas, the newly elected Palestinian President. However, a member of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade was shot dead two months later by the Israeli forces on the outskirts of Nablus. This act was regarded as a “test” of the agreement signed with the Palestinian President and as a perusal of plotting attacks. The Secretary General of Fatah and West Bank, Marwan Barghoutti regards the uprising as a war of national liberation. According to him, the only negotiations acceptable are the ones which lead towards the end of occupation. Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade can correctly be considered a response to the threats put on the demolition of Al-Aqsa mosque. As the interim agreements and negotiated peace processes recede without much progress, the most likely scenario which remains is the prolonged low-level conflicts with fluctuations of intensified violence and domestic anarchy.