TEL AVIV – The United States is currently pressuring the Jewish state to release a senior terrorist nabbed today by Israeli forces in the West Bank, WorldNetDaily has learned.

Mahmoud Damra, commander of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Force 17 personal security detail, was detained earlier at a checkpoint near Ramallah.

Abbas appointed Damra as Force 17 commander in June even though Damra is on Israel’s most wanted list of terrorists.

Israeli security officials say that since September 2000, Damra has led a cell of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group based in Ramallah that has carried out scores of deadly attacks, including shootings at Israeli vehicles, attacks against Jewish communities in the West Bank and the planting of roadside bombs.

Many Force 17 members are also stated members of the Al Aqsa Brigades.

Damra has in the past publicly boasted of attacks against Israelis. He sought shelter in then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s compound in Ramallah in 2002 after Israel accused him of masterminding a string of terrorist operations.

A Palestinian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Damra was personally involved in the murder of eight Israelis and in attacks that injured 20 more.

“It is not just Israeli propaganda. Damra was absolutely involved in the attacks,” said the Palestinian official.

Following Damra’s arrest today, Abbas called senior American and British officials to request that they demand the release of Damra, diplomatic officials tell WND.

Abba told the American officials the release of Damra was important for his personal security, the diplomatic officials said.

Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, confirmed to WND American officials have agreed to petition Israel to free Damra. He declined to name the Americans involved in mediation efforts.

Diplomatic sources involved in the talks told WND that David Welch, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, and Elliot Abrams, the National Security Agency’s Middle East Director, have sent requests to Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz’s office asking for Damra’s release.

The sources said Richard Jones, the American Ambassador to Israel, has been directed to express reservations about Damra’s arrest to Peretz and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzippy Livni.

A Palestinian official involved in the talks expressed hope Damra would be released “within days.”

U.S. weapons transfer goes to Palestinian terrorists

If Damra is freed it would not be the first time the U.S. may have indirectly aided the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades while attempting to boost Abbas’ security.

In June, WND broke the story assault rifles that were part of an American shipment of weapons transferred by the U.S. to Force 17 reportedly made its way to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The weapons may have been used in a string of shootings, including an ambush on a busload of Israeli school girls here, according to Al Aqsa members.

Abbas in May reportedly requested weapons from the U.S. in talks that involved Israel, Jordan and Egypt, stating rifles and ammunition were needed to arm Force 17 for possible clashes with Hamas.

The weapons were transported into Israel from the Jordanian border and delivered to Force 17 by a convoy protected by the Israeli Defense Forces. The cache was driven to Ramallah and to the Gaza Strip border. In Ramallah, the weapons were trucked to Arafat’s old compound, which is currently used by both Force 17 and members of the Al Aqsa Brigades, Palestinian officials involved in the transfer told WND.

The weapons cache reportedly included 3,000 American-made M-16 assault rifles and over 1 million rounds of ammunition.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced on June 13 he had approved the shipment of weapons and ammunition, explaining the transfer was meant for Abbas’ personal protection.

“I did this because we are running out of time and we need to help Abu Mazen,” Olmert told reporters.

But immediately following the transfer, Force 17 senior officer Abu Yousuf told WND in an exclusive interview the weapons will be shared with the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and utilized for attacks against Jews.

Abu Yousuf, also a member of the Al Aqsa Brigades, hinted the weapons already were used in shooting attacks in June that killed one Israeli civilian and wounded another.

Yousuf told WND the U.S. and 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.”

Abu Yousuf previously participated in anti-Israel terrorism, including recent shootings, attacks in May 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.

After the Kahane murder, Yousuf, like Damra, was extended refuge by Arafat to live in the late PLO leader’s Ramallah compound. Yousuf still lives in the compound.

Sources close to the Al Aqsa Brigades told WND the American assault rifles were used in three separate anti-Israel shooting attacks in June. One attack killed a 35-year-old Israeli Arab on a major West Bank highway on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Israeli security officials say the shooters likely mistook the victim for a Jew. The second attack, which occurred June 13 on the same highway, lightly wounded an Israeli.

In the third attack, the Al Aqsa Brigades on June 19 ambushed a bus carrying Israeli school girls. The bus was armored. The school girls escaped unharmed.

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