Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas with President Bush at White House in July 2003
TEL AVIV – A U.S.-financed and trained Fatah force in the northern Gaza Strip that surrendered to Hamas today consisted primarily of members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorist group, the declared “military wing” of Fatah, WND has learned.
The news comes as the Bush administration announced plans today to ask Congress to approve $59 million to strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah security forces.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is responsible for scores of shootings and rocket firings, and together with the Islamic Jihad terror group has taken responsibility for every suicide bombing in Israel the last two years, including an attack in Tel Aviv last April that killed eight Israelis and American teenager Daniel Wultz.
The U.S. said today the bulk of the new aid package – $43.4 million – will be used to strengthen Abbas’ Force 17 presidential guard units. According to the announcement, the sum includes $14.5 million for “basic and advanced training,” $23 million for equipment, $2.9 million to upgrade the guard’s facilities and $3 million to provide “capacity building and technical assistance” to the office of Mahmoud Dahlan, Fatah’s strongman in Gaza.
Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted in a hearing she cannot guarantee U.S. funding for Fatah forces would not reach “the wrong hands.”
Rice said she would reduce a funding request for Fatah forces following concerns last month expressed by key lawmakers that some of the money would be used for terror-related purposes.
The Bush administration in January pledged $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.
At the time, Abu Yousuf, a Fatah militant from Abba’s Force 17 security forces, told WND U.S. funds and weapons being transferred to his group would be utilized to “hit the Zionists.”
Last month, Congress placed a hold on the $86 million transfer pending a clarification from Rice as to where exactly the money would end up.
During a hearing before the House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee, Rice said she would make a new request for less money.
She conceded, “I will request less money, precisely because some of the money that I would have requested I did not think I could fully account for.”
Meanwhile, a Fatah militia in Beit Lehiya in the northern Gaza Strip surrendered today to Hamas forces after reaching an agreement in which the Fatah militants stated they will evacuate the city and altogether depart the Gaza Strip. Palestinian officials told WND the Fatah force, directed by Dahlan, was provided with U.S. weapons and training and had been charged with competing with Hamas for security control of Beit Lehiya, a large Gaza city from which rockets are regularly fired into Israel. Some of the rocket attacks are carried out by Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
The Fatah force in Beit Lehiya consisted of about 40 senior officers from Force 17, the Palestinian Preventative Security Services and the General Security Services. The leader of the Force was Samih El- Madhun, who is also openly a senior leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
According to Madhun and to Fatah and Brigades sources, most of the leadership of the U.S.-backed force that surrendered in Beit Lehiya consisted of Brigades members.
Many Fatah security members from Force 17 and the Preventative Security Services are also openly members of the Brigades. All Brigades leaders are members of Fatah.
WND reported Israel earlier this month arrested 18 Fatah fighters in the West Bank wanted for shootings against Israeli civilians. Seventeen of those arrested were also members of the Brigades, Israeli and Palestinian security officials said.
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.
While Congress has been blocking aid to Farah forces, it wasn’t immediately clear if the U.S. would continue to supply Fatah with weapons.
The last American arms shipment to Fatah publicly confirmed by Israel took place in May. At first, the shipment 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.”
Abu Yousuf 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 d’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 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,” said Abu Yousuf.
“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,” he continued.
“It’s unnatural to think these American weapons won’t be used against the Israelis,” he said.
Like some other Force 17 members, Abu Yousuf also is openly a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
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.
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