Ahood­ed­sniper­who lives in the shad­ows

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY JACEY HER­MAN NABLUS

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.”

PHOTO: AP

Be­hind the mask: Life is spent on the run for mil­i­tants wanted by the IDF

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