TEL AVIV – If Israel retaliates for yesterday’s suicide bombing with a large-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian groups will use “all tools” at their disposal to attack the Jewish state, including American weapons recently transferred to security forces associated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization, a leader of Fatah’s declared military wing told WND today.
“If Israel dares any major atrocities in Gaza in response to yesterday’s martyrdom operation, we vow to use all tools at our disposal to attack Israel and prove to the Zionists the heavy price of entering Gaza,” said Abu Ahmed, a northern Gaza leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror organization. “This means also the American weapons sent to Fatah as part of an American-Zionist conspiracy to generate internal fighting between us (Fatah) and Hamas.”
The Brigades, the declared military wing of Fatah, took responsibility along with the Islamic Jihad terror group for yesterday’s attack, which killed three people when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a bakery in the southern resort city of Eilat.
Many members of the Brigades also openly serve in Fatah’s security organizations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier this month told reporters the U.S. is working with Fatah to create a unified Palestinian security force. The Bush administration reportedly will grant $86.4 million to strengthen the Fatah forces, including Force 17, Abbas’ security detail, which also serves as de facto police units in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
The U.S. aid is meant to bolster Fatah, which the U.S. considers moderate, against Hamas. Fatah and Hamas have engaged in nearly two months of deadly factional clashes after Abbas called for new Palestinian elections in a move widely seen as an attempt to dismantle the Hamas-led PA.
WND reported the U.S. in recent weeks transferred 7,000 assault rifles and more than 1 million rounds of ammunition to Fatah militias.
The last confirmed American arms shipment to Fatah took place in May. At first, the shipment, consisting of 3,000 rifles, 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.”
At the time, 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.”
“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.
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.
A senior Fatah security official, speaking last week 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 last 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.
U.S. weapons prompting arms race?
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.”
Israeli response will be limited
Meanwhile, Palestinian terror groups in Gaza need not worry about any massive Israeli retaliation to yesterday’s suicide attack.
Olmert’s aids told reporters today Israel plans to maintain a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and will not respond to the Eilat suicide bombing in Eilat with a broad military offensive.
The Israeli Defense Forces today attacked a tunnel in the northern Gaza Strip that the army said was designed to transport terrorists into Israel to carry out an imminent attack. But IDF sources told WND they have been ordered to stand down in Gaza with the exception of stopping any imminent attacks, such as tunnel bombings or attempted rocket fire.
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