JERUSALEM – Israel has information members of Force 17, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ presidential guard detail, carried out a series of shooting attacks the past few days that killed one Israeli and wounded several others, including three schoolgirls, security officials said.
WND broke the story that the United States and Israel recently transferred to Force 17 a large cache of American weapons, including 3,000 M-16 assault rifles and 1 million rounds of ammunition.
A source close to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group hinted the fresh shipment of weapons were used in the recent spate of shootings.
Many Force 17 members are well known to also be members of the Al Aqsa Brigades, an offshoot of Abbas’ Fatah party that is responsible for scores of recent suicide bombings, shooting attacks and rocket firings at Israel.
“It is not a coincidence that as soon as these new weapons arrive, there is an increase in shootings against Israelis,” said the source.
Abu Yousuf, a senior Force 17 officer and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades member, told WND in an exclusive interview the American weapons shipment already was shared with the Brigades and will be used to shoot Jews.
He said his group may even share the rifles and bullets with Hamas if the terror group incorporates its 3,000-strong Gaza militia into the general Palestinian police. Although analysts consider the move unlikely, Hamas already reportedly agreed several times to redeploy its gunmen in Gaza as part of the Palestinian police.
Yousuf on Monday called WND to take credit for a shooting attack in which an armored Israeli school bus in northern Samaria came under fire. Three schoolgirls were lightly injured. Security officials said if the bus had not been armored, the injuries would have been more serious.
Yousuf said he was taking credit for the bus ambush on behalf of the Al Aqsa Brigades and not Force 17.
Yousuf’s group is suspected of involvement in other recent shootings, including an attack on a West Bank highway near Jerusalem that killed one Israeli Arab. Security officials said the shooters likely mistook the victim for a Jew.
The Israeli Defense Forces suspects an Al Aqsa Brigades and Force 17 cell operating in Ramallah was responsible for the shootings, security sources said. The sources said Israel has demanded the PA hand over the suspected shooters or the IDF may launch an anti-terror operation in Ramallah to arrest the wanted gunmen.
Yousuf and other Al Aqsa Brigades gunmen live in late PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s former compound in Ramallah known as the Muqata. Many of the weapons transferred by Israel and the U.S. are being stored in the Muqata, Force 17 officials told WND.
Palestinian officials said Abbas quietly requested the weapons from the U.S. in talks that involved Israel, Jordan and Egypt.
Officials involved in the weapons transfer told WND the cache was driven through Jordan to the Allenby Bridge, the border station between Jordan and Israel. The officials said a U.S. government representative was present at the Allenby Bridge and oversaw the transfer of the shipment across the border, where it was then driven by a convoy protected by the Israeli Defense Forces and delivered to Force 17 representatives in Ramallah and at the Erez Crossing, the main checkpoint between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced last week he had approved the shipment of weapons and ammunition, explaining the transfer was meant to bolster Abbas’ Fatah party in recent clashes against Hamas. The shipment reportedly originated in Jordan and needed Israel’s approval for transport.
“I did this because we are running out of time and we need to help Abu Mazen,” Olmert told reporters this past Tuesday.
But Force 17 officer Yousuf told WND the weapons will be shared with the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and utilized for attacks against Jews.
“These weapons will not be used in an internal war but against Israelis,” he said. “Force 17 is proud that we were the first to lead the Palestinian people during tough times such as resistance operations [against the Israeli army during large-scale operations in northern Samaria in 2002]. We will also be the first to lead the Palestinians in the current struggle against Israeli occupation.”
Yousuf also said the weapons may be shared with Hamas and other Palestinian Arab terror organizations.
“If the conditions on the ground will oblige us [and Hamas joins with the Palestinian police] we will not hesitate to share these new weapons with our brothers of the Hamas and the other organizations,” said Abu Yousuf
Earlier this week senior Hamas and Fatah officials held a meeting to discuss infighting in the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria unleashed after Hamas established its special security force in Gaza.
Fatah’s Preventive Security Service head Mohammed Dahlan and Hamas’ PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh participated in the meeting. They approved agreements already reached by their respective factions, including the absorption of the Hamas’ security force into the Palestinian police and its redeployment in the Gaza Strip as part of an official PA security unit.
Yousuf told WorldNetDaily Israel facilitated the transfer of weapons to his Force 17 unit “for its own political purposes. We are not concerned with the reasons. The weapons will not be used against our brothers, only [against] Israelis.”
Yousuf previously participated in anti-Israel terrorism, including recent shootings, attacks last month against Israeli forces operating in Ramallah and a shooting attack in northern Samaria in December 2000 that killed Benyamin Kahane, leader of the ultranationalist Kahane Chai organization.
Abbas last week appointed Mahmoud Damra to head Force 17. Damra is on Israel’s most wanted list of terrorists. He was offered shelter in Arafat’s Ramallah compound in 2002 after Israel accused him of masterminding a string of terrorist attacks.
Israeli security officials say that since September 2000, Damra has led a terror cell based in Ramallah that has carried out deadly attacks, including shootings at Israeli vehicles, attacks against Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and the planting of roadside bombs.
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