JERUSALEM – An officer in a U.S.-trained militia of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization was arrested yesterday after he was caught training militants from the rival Hamas terrorist group, according to information obtained by WND.
The officer, from Fatah’s national guard units, was arrested when he was caught training a Hamas cell in the northern West Bank city of Qalqiliya, Palestinian security sources said. Five Hamas members, all in their early 20s, were arrested along with the officer, who lives in the West Bank city of Jenin, the security sources said.
The arrest at once highlights fears Hamas may attempt an eventual takeover of the West Bank just as it seized the Gaza Strip and exposes what seems to be a trend of Hamas infiltration with the Fatah militias.
The arrest also demonstrates the risk of providing U.S. training to Fatah, which American policy considers moderate even though Fatah maintains a military wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, that statistically is responsible for far more terrorism than Hamas. Many members of the Brigades serve openly in the U.S.-trained Fatah forces. Indeed, Brigades members consist of Fatah’s top militia officers.
There is fear of a Hamas takeover attempt in the strategic West Bank. According to Fatah sources speaking to WND, the group nabs Hamas men in an almost weekly basis transferring large sums of money within the West Bank, purportedly to set up a military infrastructure there.
Fatah in April discovered a warehouse in Qalqiliya that Hamas had used to store weapons and incitement material against Fatah. The discovery came one week after Fatah found a Hamas explosives lab under a mosque in the same city.
Also in April, WND reported a Fatah intelligence investigation quietly concluded the PA’s general intelligence service, as well as members of Fatah’s militias, are in a “heavy” state of infiltration by Hamas, according to Palestinian security sources.
The issue of Hamas infiltration is significant since Hamas’ penetration of Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip was thought to have been the Achilles heel that led to the terror group’s 2007 takeover of the entire Gaza Strip in which it forcibly expelled Fatah.
Both Israeli and Palestinian security officials recently told WND they have specific information Hamas quietly is setting the stage for an eventual 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 that could be used in a seizure attempt.
The U.S. backs Israeli-Palestinian talks leading to the creation of a Fatah-led Palestinian state in the West Bank.
Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s Shin Bet Security Services, estimated during a Knesset meeting last November that if control of the West Bank were handed over to Abbas, Israel would suffer a “significant threat to its security.”
A Fatah investigation last year – the results of which were shared with WND – found Hamas was establishing a quasi-militia in the northern West Bank. The city of Jenin, for example, was thought to contain a Hamas infrastructure of gunmen numbered only in the dozens. But Fatah says it found out Hamas last purchased more than 600 high-powered assault rifles and distributed them to fighters in the city, the security officials said.
Palestinian officials said Fatah raids confiscated about 100 rifles in Jenin, but they believe 500 more were handed out by Hamas.
Fatah’s investigation last year found that members of its declared military wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group, were recruited by Hamas in Jenin with higher paychecks, security officials said.
The investigation also found that many Fatah Brigades gunmen granted amnesty in June 2006 by then–Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sold their weapons to Hamas, which stockpiled and distributed the rifles in Jenin, said Palestinian security officials. The amnesty was granted as an Israeli gesture to bolster Abbas against Hamas and was conditioned on Brigades terrorists handing in their weapons to the PA for a fee.
Fatah’s 2008 investigation was initially sparked because of a noticeable spike in the price of assault rifles in the West Bank that year, Palestinian security officials told WND. The officials said Fatah also recently confiscated $350,000 in cash from a Hamas official in the West Bank city of Ramallah, which is considered a Fatah stronghold. The cash was meant to purchase more weapons for Hamas gunmen in the West Bank, the officials said.
WND recently conducted an exclusive interview with Mahmoud Al-Zahar, the Hamas chief in Gaza, who said Hamas is the rightful representative of the Palestinian people and should control the entire West Bank just as they rule the Gaza Strip.
“According to our rights, we are the elected majority, and a majority in a democracy should control all the Palestinian areas, whether in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip. This is not an extraordinary issue,” said Al-Zahar, who is considered the second most powerful Hamas leader following the group’s overall chief, Khaled Meshaal, who resides in exile in Damascus.
“Do you respect democracy? If you respect democracy, the elections in January ’06 indicated Hamas is the majority, and it should run the administration in Gaza and the West Bank,” said al-Zahar, speaking from Gaza.
Al-Zahar was referring to Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 in which Hamas was victorious by a large margin. Abbas unilaterally disbanded the Hamas-led Palestinian government after Hamas’ Gaza takeover.