AMMAN, Jordan, March 4 (UPI) -- Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' recent statements suspecting al-Qaida may have a presence in the Palestinian territories have raised eyebrows and questions as Hamas struggles against Western pressure while trying to form a government in the aftermath of its vast victory in the legislative elections.
Palestinian officials, including Hamas members, questioned the timing of such "dubious" statements from Abbas to the Saudi-financed al-Hayat daily, distributed in most Arab capitals involved in a campaign against al-Qaida network, led by Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden.
They also questioned the source of intelligence information made available to Abbas that would for the first time make him speak out publicly on the issue, which he described as "very sensitive."
The London-based al-Hayat quoted Abbas Thursday as saying he was "very worried over intelligence information that the organization is making a presence in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip."
He cautioned that if al-Qaida operatives managed to infiltrate the Palestinian territories without any control, "the result will destroy the whole region."
While the Palestinian president said he was reluctant to talk about specific threats and wanted to be accurate on this "very dangerous matter," he stressed "we have indications of al-Qaida presence in Gaza and the West Bank based on intelligence and security information."
Well-informed Palestinian sources in the Jordanian capital, Amman, said Abbas had apparently received this information from Israeli intelligence sources who had reported it to their Palestinian counterparts.
Abbas' statements in al-Hayat, they note, came a week after Israeli Defense Forces Maj-Gen. Yair Naveh said in a closed meeting that al-Qaida is trying to strengthen its presence in Jordan to destabilize the pro-Western Hashemite regime there and make its way across the Jordan River into the Palestinian territories.
Naveh was quoted as saying the authorities recently "caught several local terror cells that were in touch with the international Global Jihad based in Jordan," and added that Jordan should be "particularly concerned with the Hamas takeover of the Palestinian Authority."
Arab analysts say if Israel is the source of information, it is not likely to be credible and is loaded with an agenda aimed at trying to form a link between Hamas and al-Qaida, widely unpopular among the Palestinians.
Hamas officials have publicly cast doubt on the credibility of Abbas' information. Hamas spokesman in Beirut told UPI it was in Israel's interest to promote such a rumor to add pressure on the Palestinians, to whom the West has threatened to withhold economic assistance unless Hamas renounces violence and recognizes Israel.
"The Palestinian people know much about resistance...and we don't need anyone to teach us" about it, Hamdan said, adding "there is no need for al-Qaida in the Palestinian territories and there is no proof they are here."
Arab analysts say Israel is publicly trying to make a clear link between Hamas, the acronym for the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, and al-Qaida because they both share Islam as an ideology.
Trying to link the two at this time, they add, is aimed at consolidating the idea in the West that Hamas is a terrorist organization, as opposed to a legitimate resistance group recognized by the rest of the Arabs, and thus foil all attempts for Hamas to form a government that would successfully administer the difficult living conditions of the Palestinians if Western aid stops.
Independent Palestinian analysts insist that al-Qaida lacks any support among the Palestinians, who voted overwhelmingly for Hamas in January, and Hamas will not threaten its standing at home or abroad by establishing any direct or indirect links with such an internationally-notorious group generally labeled as a terrorist organization.
They say the Palestinians resent the fact that al-Qaida, which has so far confined its violence against non-Israeli targets across the world, has "exploited and sabotaged" the Palestinian cause to launch its attacks that have mostly killed and maimed civilians.
Many Palestinian skeptics go further, accusing al-Qaida of being nothing more than a tool in the hands of the Israeli secret service to assist Israeli interests and bring as much harm as possible to the Palestinian cause.
They refer, for example, to suicide attacks in the Jordanian capital, Amman, on Nov. 9, targeting three hotels in a country where more than half the 5.4 million population are originally Palestinians.
Al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the triple attack, in which a large number of the 60 people killed and 100 others injured were Palestinians. One of the targets was a wedding party of a Jordanian couple of Palestinian origin, where most of the victims killed were Palestinian relatives who came from the West Bank to attend the celebration.
Arab analysts also suspect that Israel would provide information of a possible al-Qaida threat in the Palestinian territories to Abbas in a bid to hit another bird with the same stone: To drive a wedge between Palestinian Muslims and Christians by trying to scare the Palestinian Christians from a Hamas-led government.
They claim that for decades the Israelis have tried, but failed, to "incite religious strife" between Palestinian Muslims and Christians.
Analysts speculate that Friday's attempted attack by Jewish extremists against a major Roman Catholic church in Nazareth, the largest Arab town in Israel inhabited by Muslims and Christians, could have been orchestrated by Israeli power circles to frame Muslims for the act.
Three Jewish extremists, disguised as Christian worshippers, set off explosives in the Church of Annunciation, where Christians believe the Angel Gabriel appeared before the Virgin Mary and foretold the birth of Jesus. The incident sparked riots and clashes between Arab residents and the police.
The analysts claim that had the attack been orchestrated and if the attackers had gotten away and not been overwhelmed by worshippers, the assault on one of Christianity's holiest sites could have left a mark that al-Qaida, blamed for attacking churches in Iraq, is launching its operations against Palestinian Christians.
Whether Israel fabricated the information given to the Palestinian leader, and whether the attack on the church in the heart of an Arab town in Israel was orchestrated, hard evidence is still lacking on the emergence of an al-Qaida threat.