Ahoodedsniperwho lives in the shadows
IT IS nearly midnight, and, as an icy chill envelops the West Bank city of Nablus, the hunt is still on to find a Palestinian gunman wanted for killing two Israeli soldiers.
Hani Azar (not his real name), 45, the local commander of a small unit operating in an outlying refugee camp, sits cross-legged on the broken tiles of a destroyed building with the moonlight casting shadows across his face. An M16 hangs from his shoulder, his left arm cradling it against his bony chest. Outside, three men keep guard.
To many here, he is a hero. But to the Israeli government, he is a killer with Jewish blood on his hands.
“The Israelis are doing everything they can to kill me,” he says. “If they find me here, they will blow up this whole area and kill everyone.”
Nights are the most dangerous. That is when the Israeli army takes over, before handing back to the Palestinian police who patrol during the day, looking for stolen cars and illegal weapons.
For the past year, Israeli special forces have entered the city searching for militants almost every night. Some they want only to arrest, but others they are prepared to take alive or dead. Mr Azar understands this all too clearly, which is why he is so careful — one suspicious noise could mark his end.
His whispered words sound alarmingly loud in the stillness of the night. “I haven’t seen my wife or children for weeks now because I can’t stay in one place longer than a few hours,” he says, leaning back and motioning for a cigarette. “If I do, spies who are all over Palestine will tell Israel where I am.”
WhenMrAzar’smenspotIsraelisoldiers from their hide-outs inside destroyed buildings or in the homes of sympathetic villagers, they take aim. He himself claims to have killed two soldiers.
“I studied my profession on the streets because the Israelis are always here in the camp. The street is the best university. The street and the prison. That’s where we learn,” he adds.
The walkie-talkie on the ground besides him crackles to life. He lights the cigarette and talks in muted tones, before continuing: “This is our land and we will continue to fight to free it. The Israelis came and occupied our land. How I can ever accept that?
“Look around you, look at the way my people live — in poverty and oppression. How can you ever expect us to accept that?
“My sons are still boys, but I am teaching them from the day they were born to fight the Israelis. It’s as important to them as their mother’s milk. I am prepared to die to liberate Palestine.”
After 20 minutes, it is time to move on. But Mr Azar has one more warning.
“The Israelis know there are many of us. So what if they kill me, kill a few here, a few there? Our children will continue the fight. My biggest wish is that my sons will grow up knowing their father was a freedom-fighter.”
Behind the mask: Life is spent on the run for militants wanted by the IDF