Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meeting with President Bush in the Oval Office Monday
JERUSALEM – Hours before the start of the U.S.-backed Annapolis summit aimed at handing the West Bank to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ organization, Israel cracked down on a cell of leading Palestinians suspected of setting up a Hamas military arm for the terror group to take over the strategic territory, WND has learned.
Hamas leaders in recent weeks vowed their organization would seize the West Bank if Israel hands the territory to Abbas, just as Hamas seized the Gaza Strip last June, overtaking all U.S.-backed Fatah security compounds in less than one week.
The West Bank borders Jerusalem and is within rocket range of Tel Aviv and Israel’s international airport.
According to Israeli and Palestinian security officials, Monday night the Israel Defense Forces arrested seven members of Abbas’ Fatah organization suspected of working on behalf of Hamas to establish a special forces unit for the terror group in the West Bank.
One of the arrested Fatah officials is the assistant to Maged Abu Shamaleh, secretary-general of Fatah in Gaza and a member of the PA parliament, according to security sources speaking to WND. Shamaleh, along with his assistant and the other six arrested militants, moved to the West Bank in June following Hamas’ takeover of Gaza.
The IDF would not officially confirm the arrests. An IDF spokeswoman had no comment on the report.
Israeli security officials said they were concerned Abbas’ Fatah organization in the West Bank is “heavily infiltrated” by Hamas. The issue of Hamas infiltration of Fatah was thought to have been the Achilles heel that led to the terror group’s takeover last summer of the entire Gaza Strip.
Hamas’ infiltration of Fatah in Gaza was so extensive, according to top Palestinian intelligence sources speaking to WND, it included the chiefs of several prominent Fatah security forces, including Yussef Issa, director of the Preventative Security Services, the main Fatah police force. Issa regularly coordinated security with the U.S. and Israel.
Israeli security officials said they were also concerned Abbas is not strong enough in the West Bank to impose law and order without the help of the IDF. According to the officials, Fatah’s intelligence apparatus routinely hands the IDF lists of Hamas militants that threaten Fatah rule, requesting that Israel make arrests.
WND first reported earlier this month Israeli and Palestinian security officials told WND they have specific information Hamas is quietly setting the stages for an imminent West Bank takeover attempt. The officials said that among other things, Hamas has been acquiring weaponry in the West Bank and has set up a sophisticated system of communication between cells for a seizure attempt.
In what is considered the most threatening Hamas move, according to the officials, the terror group is thought to have heavily infiltrated all major Fatah forces in the West Bank and has been attempting to buy off Fatah militia members, many times successfully.
At a Gaza rally earlier this month, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Mahmoud al-Zahar, vowed his group would overtake the West Bank.
“Israel thinks Fatah in the West Bank is there to serve it, but we will take over the West Bank the way we took over Gaza,” stated al-Zahar.
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