RAMALLAH -- Palestinian insurgents financed by Iran are becoming Shi'ites in what is more likely a financial than a spiritual transformation.
Palestinian sources said members of the Iranian-sponsored Islamic Jihad were being encouraged by Teheran to become Shi'ites.
Ironically this is something which has been going on in Syria as well. BIG SURPRISE, little Assad.
The sources said scores of operatives were adopting Shi'ite tradition, although only a handful underwent a formal conversion.
"It's a career decision," a Palestinian source said. "When you're Shi'ite, you become more trusted by Iran and Hizbullah and you might even get more money."
Palestinian militants from Islamic Jihad in Gaza City. AFP/Mahmud Hams
The West Bank and the Gaza Strip is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim. Until 2007, Shi'ites were unheard of in the West Bank.
But over the last year, Shi'ite institutions have begun to operate in the Palestinian areas. The sources said they have drawn slight interest from Sunnis.
Insurgents financed by Iran, however, have demonstrated the greatest interest in Shi'ism. The family of Jihad commander Mohammed Shehadeh, slain in mid-March in an Israeli operation, converted from Sunni to Shia in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
Shehadeh was said to have become Shi'ite after he was deported by Israel to Lebanon in 1992. Less than two years later, he returned to Bethlehem and practiced the Shi'ite religion, regarded by Sunnis as heretical.
Other Jihad commanders who became Shi'ite were identified as Issa Bata and Mohammed Kawamleh. Batat has been imprisoned by Israel while Kawamleh remained a fugitive.
The sources said the Palestinian Shi'ites were also linked to Hizbullah. They said Hizbullah has encouraged young Palestinians, particularly insurgency operatives, to study Shi'ite theology in Iran and Lebanon.