RAMALLAH – The United States, aided by Israel, over the last few weeks has provided 7,000 assault rifles and more than 1 million rounds of ammunition to militias associated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, senior Fatah militants told WND.
The arms were provided to bolster Fatah against rival Hamas factions, the Fatah militants said.
Fatah and Hamas have engaged in weeks of deadly firefights since Abbas last month called for new Palestinian elections in a move widely seen as an attempt to dismantle the Hamas-led PA.
Abu Yousuf, a Fatah militant from Abba’s Force 17 security forces, told WND while some of the weapons may be used in confrontations against Hamas, the bulk of the American arms would be utilized to “hit the Zionists.”
He said if there is a major conflict with Israel, U.S. weapons provided to Fatah may be shared with other “Palestinian resistance organizations.”
According to documents revealed Friday, the Bush administration will provide $86.4 million to strengthen security forces loyal to Abbas, including Force 17, Abbas’ security detail, which also serves as de facto police units in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Some members of Force 17 also are openly members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror organization, Fatah’s declared “military wing.”
U.S. officials confirmed the financial aid is set to be transferred to Fatah.
The multi-million-dollar grant will be used to “assist the Palestinian Authority presidency in fulfilling PA commitments under the Road Map (peace plan) to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and establish law and order in the West Bank and Gaza,” a U.S. government document said.
Force 17 members told WND ammunition and 7,000 assault rifles they say were delivered the past few weeks reached Fatah security forces in the Gaza Strip and in Ramallah in the West Bank. It was unclear if the arms were part of the $86 million in U.S. aid.
Like other recent confirmed arms transfers from Egypt and the U.S., the latest American weapons shipments were driven through Israeli checkpoints by convoys protected by the Israeli Defense Forces, according to sources familiar with the transfers. In Gaza, the weapons were accepted by Fatah strongman Mahmoud Dahlan, the sources said.
A spokeswoman for the IDF refused to deny the latest purported U.S. weapons shipments.
“This is a matter for the state (of Israel) and the prime minister’s office,” the IDF spokeswoman said.
Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, could not immediately provide confirmation or denial of the American weapons shipment, saying Olmert’s visit today to China is “keeping the staff fully busy.”
The U.S. State Department did not return a request for comment before press time.
In an interview with WND, Fatah Force 17 security officer Abu Yousuf said some of the U.S. weapons his group received would be used against Hamas.
“The first place of these U.S. weapons will be to defend the Palestinian national project, which is reflected by the foundation of the Palestinian Authority. If Hamas or any other group under the influence of Iran and Syria wants to make a coup de tat against our institution, these weapons are there to defend the PA,” said Abu Yousuf.
“We don’t want to go to civil war with Hamas, because this is what both the U.S. and Israel want. This is our last option. We hope our brothers in Hamas won’t oblige us to find ourselves in confrontation,” Abu Yousuf said.
But the Fatah militant said the new American weapons may also be used to target Israelis. He admitted previous American arms supplied to Fatah were used in “resistance operations” against the Jewish state.
“If Israel will deliver what it promised to Abu Mazen (Abbas), [meaning a] withdrawal from Palestinian lands, including east Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, remove all the checkpoints in the West Bank, release our prisoners, and find a clear solution for our refugees, we’ll control our forces and the distribution of weapons
“But if Israel doesn’t deliver, and we find ourselves manipulated by Israel, we cannot guarantee members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Force 17 will not use these weapons against Israel. Our goal is to change the occupation,” said Abu Yousuf.
” Its unnatural to think these American weapons won’t be used against the Israelis,” he said.
Like some other Force 17 members, Abu Yousuf is openly also a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
The Brigades, together with Islamic Jihad, has taken responsibility for every suicide bombing in Israel the past two years, including an attack in Tel Aviv in April that killed American teenager Daniel Wultz and nine Israelis. The Brigades also has carried out scores of deadly shooting and rocket attacks against Israeli civilians in recent months.
All Brigades leaders are also members of Fatah. Abbas last June appointed senior Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades leader Mahmoud Damra as commander of Force 17. Damra, who was arrested by Israel in November, was on the Jewish state’s most-wanted list of terrorists.
Abu Yousuf said the American weapons shipments may be shared with other Palestinian terror groups. He said that during large confrontations with Israel, such as the Jewish state’s 2002 anti-terror raid in Jenin, Fatah distributed weapons to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
“We don’t look where this piece or that piece of weapon came from when fighting the Israelis,” Abu Yousuf said.
He also pointed to what he said was Hamas’ infiltration of some of Fatah’s security forces as a possible mechanism Hamas can use to obtain Fatah’s American-supplied weapons.
“Our organizations are infiltrated (by Hamas). In the last elections campaign, our Fatah party was astonished at how many of our security members votes for Hamas – we thought our own forces would vote 95 percent vote for us, but it was 70 percent for Fatah and 30 percent for Hamas,” Abu Yousuf said.
A senior Fatah security official, speaking yesterday to WND on condition his name be withheld, says Fatah has a “significant problem” of its militia members in Gaza joining Hamas.
Sources close to Hamas said the Fatah militants, including members of Force 17, worked with Hamas after receiving larger paychecks from the terror group.
“When they join Hamas, they bring along their new weapons,” said a Hamas source.
During a WND interview earlier this week, Hamas spokesman Abu Oubaida told WND his terror group will obtain any American weapons transferred to Fatah militias or purchased by Fatah using the incoming $86.4 million in U.S. aid.
“I am sure that like in the past, this $86 million from America will find its way to the Hamas resistance via the honorable persons in the Fatah security organizations, including in Force 17. I can confirm 100 percent that this money and purchased weapons will find its way to Hamas,” said Abu Oubaida.
The last confirmed American arms shipment to Fatah took place in May. At first, it was denied by the U.S. and Israel, but Olmert in June admitted the transfer took place, telling reporters, “I needed to approve the shipment to help bolster Abbas.”
The U.S. weapons were delivered to Gaza and Ramallah by the IDF, according to reports.
U.S. weapons prompting Palestinian arms race?
Meanwhile, Abu Abdullah, considered one of the most important operational members of Hamas’ so-called military wing, told WND the U.S. aid and weapons shipments have prompted a Palestinian arms race.
The Hamas leader said weapons procured as a result of the U.S. shipment will be used against Israel.
“The more the Americans give Abu Mazen (Abbas) weapons, the more we will have in the future weapons to use against the Israelis, because it incites the different organizations to intensify their own supply of weapons,” said Abu Abdullah of Hamas’ Izzedine al-Qassam Martyrs Brigades, Hamas’ declared “resistance” department.
According to Palestinian security sources, the increased drive by Hamas to obtain new weapons has raised the price of arms in Egypt and Jordan.
“An M-16 that sold for 6,000 Jordanian Dinar now is worth 10,000 Dinar because Hamas is trying to get more weapons,” a Palestinian security source told WND.
Like Hamas spokesman Abu Oubaida, Hamas’ Abu Abdullah said U.S. weapons to Fatah would eventually fall into the hands of Hamas:
“These American weapons will be one day the property of all the Palestinian people and its resistance, including Hamas,” Abu Abdullah said. “The U.S. gives weapons to Fatah during internal Palestinian clashes, but one day when we go back to carrying out operations together, these [weapons] will be shared.”
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