- Former leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades
- Former leader of Tanzim
- Was killed by Israeli security forces in 2001
Born in the early 1970s, Atef Abayat was a Bethlehem-based commander of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which are affiliated with Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement. Abayat also headed the Bethlehem faction of Tanzim, Fatah’s military wing. In these roles, he led a large number of armed attacks against Israeli targets in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and against IDF soldiers and settlers throughout the region. According to Shin Bet (the Israeli Security Agency), Abayat was directly responsible for the deaths of five Israelis including:
- two Nahal soldiers who were killed in a November 2, 2000 gun battle in Kaft Al Hadar, south of Bethlehem;
- Tzachi Sasson, a Gush Etzion resident who was gunned down as he drove his car along the Tunnel Road on February 11, 2001;
- a Shimshon soldier who died at the hands of a sharp-shooter at Rachel’s Tomb on April 2, 2001; and
- Nokdim resident Sarit Amrani, who was killed in a shooting attack at the Tekoa Junction on September 20, 2001.
The Bethlehem office of the Palestinian Authority‘s (PA) general intelligence agency summoned Abayat for questioning numerous times following these murders, but in each case he was released almost immediately. On a number of other occasions, the PA, responding to Israeli pressure, went so far as to arrest Abayat; but again, he was invariably freed soon afterward.
By 2001 Abayat was aware that Israeli authorities were likely seeking to bypass the PA and bring him to justice themselves. In September of that year, he told a television interviewer: “I am ready to die a martyr’s death at any time.”