"Hamas has collected millions of dollars to improve its information campaign," said one official. "Hamas's official web site, The Palestinian Information Center, recently underwent a major face-lift that cost tens of thousands of dollars."
In addition to Arabic, English, French and Russian, The Palestinian Information Center, which was inaugurated in 1997, also publishes in Melayu, an Austronesian language spoken in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand, and Urdu, an Indo-Aryan language spoken in Pakistan and some parts of India.
The decision to launch an English Web site comes at the peak of the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah, which is also being waged in the media. Fatah has several sites that Hamas has accused of inciting against the Islamic movement and its leaders.
Last week, the Fatah-controlled Palestine Press site [www.palpress.ps] claimed that PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh had cursed Allah during a meeting in Gaza City. In response, a number of Hamas-affiliated sites ran a story claiming that senior Fatah leader Azzam al-Ahmed was the one who had made the blasphemous remark.
And while Fatah's Web sites repeatedly run stories highlighting the "blunders and incompetence" of the Hamas-led government, Hamas's sites have branded some Fatah leaders, particularly Muhammad Dahlan, as an Israeli and American agent.
Izaddin Kassam is not the first Palestinian armed group to publish its own Web site. Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, also has a Web site, but it is only in Arabic [www.kataebaqsa.org]. In 2004, the Aksa Brigades accused the CIA of closing down its Web site on the Internet under pressure from "Jewish groups."
Other armed groups that already have [Arabic language] sites on the Internet include the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the [Fatah-affiliated] Abu Rish Brigades, the Popular Resistance Committees and Islamic Jihad.
Both the Kassam and Aksa sites publish "military communiques" detailing daily "resistance operations against the Israeli enemy." Each group also has a list of its "martyrs" who were killed during the second intifada, including the Fatah and Hamas suicide bombers.
The current lead story on the Izaddin Kassam site refers to allegations made earlier this week by Fatah officials to the effect that Hamas was planning to assassinate senior Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip using booby-trapped underground tunnels.
Abu Obaida, a spokesman for the Izaddin Kassam group, is quoted as describing the Fatah allegations as "cheap lies." He claimed that the underground tunnels were dug by Hamas to foil any attempt by the IDF to invade the Gaza Strip.
Earlier this week, Hamas accused Fatah of launching an attack on its Web sites, forcing them of them to close down temporarily. Hamas officials said the attack, which began on January 10, was carried out by "Zionist groups and their local collaborators." In a statement, Hamas condemned the attacks as a "criminal and illegal act of sabotage reflecting a mentality of terrorism."