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U.S. ally reaches out to Hamas

Hamas demonstration

TEL AVIV – In what may be a sign of Hamas’ growing influence in the strategic West Bank, Jordan has been enhancing its ties to the Islamic group while scaling back associations with the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority, WND has learned.

Jordan, a key U.S. ally, neighbors the West Bank. The U.S. supports the creation of a PA-led Palestinian state in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.

Historically, Jordan has had a troubled relationship with Hamas. In 1999, the country expelled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and shut down Hamas offices in the kingdom. In the past few months, however, Jordan has reached out repeatedly to Hamas.

A Jordanian intelligence official told WND that several months ago Jordan’s intelligence chief held a meeting with Hamas leaders to discuss drafting a common platform on which to begin a renewed relationship.

In August, Meshaal visited Jordan for the first time in ten years. Last month, Hamas declared that although it is related to the Muslim Brotherhood, which maintains an opposition presence in Amman, Hamas will not involve itself in Jordanian internal affairs.

The Jordanian intelligence official speaking to WND said his country is seeking ways to give Hamas a larger platform in the Palestinian arena.

At the same time, the official revealed, Jordan has been scaling back its relationship with the PA.

Of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ last four trips to Jordan, he met with King Abdullah only once.

Also, Jordan has been reducing the facility of movement and activities of PA leaders in Jordan. The PA traditionally maintained major satellite offices in the kingdom, which had been a staging ground for PA planning outside the West Bank.

Apparently, aside from strategic considerations, a personal element may be at play in Jordan’s changing attitude.

The Jordanian intelligence official told WND the PA recently proposed a grand alliance with Jordan that would seek to eventually create a confederacy between the West Bank and Jordan in which King Abdullah would serve only as symbolic leader while elected officials would govern.

“The offer was quite humiliating for Abdullah,” a source knowledgeable with the affair told WND.

Hamas to takeover West Bank?

Last week, WND quoted Jordanian intelligence officials stating Hamas is working to establish a military wing in the strategic West Bank.

Following Israel’s evacuation of the Gaza Strip in 2005, Hamas seized the coastal territory, forcibly expelling the U.S.-trained security forces of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Now, Jordanian intelligence officials say, Hamas is attempting to set the stage for an eventual West Bank takeover.

The officials disclosed that the PA in recent months discovered millions of dollars in cash with Hamas militants in key Fatah controlled cities, such as Ramallah and Nablus. Upon interrogation, the Hamas members admitted the funds were to be used to aid in the establishment of a military wing in the West Bank, the security officials said.

PA security officials previously told WND a recent Fatah investigation discovered Hamas attempted with some success to establish a military wing in the northern West Bank city of Jenin, a longtime Fatah stronghold, although the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad terror group also has a presence there.

Hamas gunmen in Jenin were thought to be numbered in the dozens, but the PA found out Hamas purchased more than 600 high-powered assault rifles and distributed them to fighters in the city, the security officials said. The officials said Fatah raids confiscated about 100 rifles, but they believe 500 more were handed out by Hamas in Jenin.

Fatah’s investigation also found that some 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.

That issue is significant since Hamas’ infiltration of Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip was thought to have been the Achilles heel that led to the terror group’s takeover in 2007 of the entire Gaza Strip.

A PA security official claimed to WND yesterday that his organization does not know of any significant infiltration by Hamas in Fatah’s West Bank security forces, many of whom have received new training by the U.S.

Since the late 1990s, the U.S. has run training bases for PA militias. The U.S. also has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid and weapons to build up the PA militias.

The U.S. stepped up its efforts over the past two year to train the PA, running more advanced courses guided by Keith Dayton, the U.S. security coordinator to the Palestinian territories. In 2007, Dayton initiated an advanced program for Palestinian police that trains 500 to 600 cadets at a time at the American bases.

The U.S. currently operates training bases for the PA police and other militias, such as Force 17 and the Preventative Security Services in the West Bank city of Jericho and the Jordanian village of Giftlik.

Still, Israeli security officials here say they are concerned Abbas’ Fatah organization in the West Bank is infiltrated by Hamas just as it was in Gaza in 2007.

Hamas’ infiltration of Fatah in Gaza was so extensive, according to top Palestinian intelligence sources, 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 despite recent U.S. training, they were also concerned Abbas is not strong enough in the West Bank to impose law and order without the help of the Israeli army. According to the officials, Fatah’s intelligence apparatus routinely hands the Israel Defense Forces lists of Hamas militants that threaten Fatah rule, requesting that Israel make arrests.

Hamas leaders previously warned they would take over the West Bank if Israel pulls out of the territory.

At a Gaza rally in 2007, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Mahmoud al-Zahar, said, “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.”

Nizar Rayyan, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza, stated Hamas will soon control Abbas’ office in the West Bank.

“In the autumn, Hamas supporters will be praying in the Muqata compound in Ramallah (the site of Abbas’ presidential office),” he said. “We are now praying at the presidential compound in Gaza, just as we said we would. Abbas’ regime will fall like a leaf come autumn.”

The West Bank borders major Israeli cities and is within rocket-firing range of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s international airport.

Military strategists long have estimated Israel must maintain the West Bank to defend itself from any ground invasion. Terrorist groups have warned if Israel withdraws, they will launch rockets from the West Bank into Israeli cities