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JAFFA, Israel – Hamas and members of the so-called military wing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization have been carrying out joint attacks against Israel and recently formed a new terror group to conduct operations against the Jewish state, top Fatah militants told WND.

The information comes as the U.S. recently announced large sums of aid to Fatah and initiated military training programs for West Bank Fatah militias purportedly to back Abbas’ group against Hamas and to isolate Hamas in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Top leaders of Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group told WND their organization the past few weeks carried out a series of joint attacks with Hamas against Israeli soldiers operating in the northern West Bank.

They said the Brigades and Hamas formed a new organization called the Fire Belt to attack Israel, and that this past weekend the new Fire Belt group worked together to lob grenades at Israeli forces operating in the vicinity of the northern West Bank city of Nablus.

The Brigades, Fatah’s declared “military wing,” took credit along with the Islamic Jihad terror group for every suicide bombing in Israel in 2005 and 2006. One-hundred-seventy-eight members of the Brigades were granted amnesty last month by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as a gesture to bolster Abbas against Hamas and build up Fatah forces in the West Bank.

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades leaders in Nablus told WND the new Fire Belt group consists of Brigades members mostly from Nablus who are not on Olmert’s official amnesty list.

Abu Nasser, a leader of the Brigades in Nablus and a self-declared top commander of the Fire Belt group with Hamas, told WND yesterday Fatah militants are “unified” with Hamas and that the two would attack Israel together.

“Fatah and Hamas are having diplomatic problems but that doesn’t mean we are not unified in the battle against the (Israeli) occupation,” he said.

“The Fire Belt will carry out many more attacks. We hope this cooperation will bring the two parties [Fatah and Hamas] to respect Palestinian unity and safeguard that unity. Our enemy is not Hamas, it is Israel,” said Abu Nasser.

Abu Nasser is on a list of 152 Brigades members the PA recently presented to Israel for amnesty consideration as part of further Israeli gestures to bolster Abbas against Hamas.

Abu Nasser would not say where the funding for his new Hamas-Fatah terror group originates.

Palestinian security officials associated with Abbas said the Fire Belt receives most of its funding from Hamas and from the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militia. The security officials claimed the new group was not coordinated with the Fatah leadership and was working to undermine Abbas. They claimed the Brigades, which took credit for scores of attacks the last few weeks, is committed to halting violence against Israel in line with the amnesty deal.

Last week, the State Department announced a multimillion dollar program to train Fatah militants in the West Bank. Under an agreement signed this month by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad, Fatah’s Force 17 officers are slated to take course work and conduct VIP protection exercises under the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Force 17 serve as de facto police units in the West Bank. Many members of Force 17 openly serve in the Brigades.

The Fatah training program, which includes courses in the use of weapons, is part of a larger $86.5 million aid package granted to the PA by Congress in April.

Rice and other top Bush administration officials have said the U.S. is seeking to back Abbas against Hamas, which in June took control of all Fatah security compounds in the Gaza Strip.

But there have been indications Hamas and Fatah are seeking a reconciliation.

The London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday reported the Hamas leadership is considering an initiative proposing it hand back Gaza Strip security compounds seized from Fatah in June to achieve reconciliation with Abbas’ group.

Also the Iranian Fars news agency last week quoted Palestinian diplomatic sources stating Abbas appointed two senior Fatah officials to hold informal talks with Hamas to affect a reconciliation with the group. Fatah denied the report, but Ahmed Yousef, a top political advisor to Hamas’ Gaza leader and deposed prime minister Ismail Haniya, said Abbas indeed allowed some Fatah officials to hold unofficial talks with Hamas.

In a move that raised diplomatic eyebrows in Washington and Jerusalem, Fatah earlier this month paid the salaries of almost half the members of rival Hamas’ security forces. PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at first claimed the salaries where transferred in error and assured a delegation of visiting House of Representatives members that Fatah had no financial dealings with Hamas. Later, a PA investigation chartered by Fayyad claimed that a bribed PA Finance Ministry official was responsible for the salary transfer to Hamas.


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