Hamas, the main Islamist movement in the Palestinian territories, was born soon after the previous intifada erupted in 1987. The organization opposes the Oslo peace process and its short-term aim is a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories. Hamas does not recognize the right of Israel to exist. Its long-term aim is to establish an Islamic state on land originally mandated as Palestine - most of which has been contained within Israel's borders since its creation in 1948. The grass-roots organization - with a political and a military wing - has an unknown number of hard-core members but tens of thousands of supporters and sympathizers.
It has two main functions: 1) it is involved in building schools and hospitals in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and in helping the community in social and religious ways. 2) The military wing of Hamas - known as the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades - has carried out a series of bloody attacks against Israeli targets. In February and March 1996, Hamas carried out several bus bombings, killing nearly 60 Israelis. It was also blamed for attacks in 1997 in Jerusalem which killed 15 people, and brought the peace process grinding to a halt. Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA) - the government-in-waiting if a Palestinian state is established - views Hamas as a serious rival, yet the Palestinian leader has tried to co-opt the movement into mainstream politics. But his insistence that Hamas recognize the PA as the only national authority in the Palestinian territories and cease military operations against Israel has been resisted. Hamas argues that to accept the PA would be to recognize the Oslo accords - which Islamist groups saw as nothing more than a security deal between the PA, Israel and the US, with the ultimate aim of wiping them out. Despite a fierce offensive against the group in 1996, when the PA arrested some 1,000 Palestinians and took over mosques in Gaza, the PA has been careful not to drive Hamas underground.