JERUSALEM – Members of the U.S.-backed Fatah organization recently were caught aiding Hamas in the establishment of a military wing in the strategic West Bank, according to security sources in the Palestinian Authority.
The Obama administration has backed a Fatah-led state in the West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in November announced a 10-month freeze of Jewish construction in the territory in an attempt to jumpstart talks aimed at creating a West Bank PA state, a move that would first see an Israeli retreat from the area.
Following Israel’s evacuation of the Gaza Strip in 2005, Hamas seized the coastal territory, forcibly expelling the U.S.-trained Fatah security forces of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Now, recent occurrences indicate Hamas is attempting to set the stage for an eventual West Bank takeover.
PA sources told WND they recently clamped down on a number of Fatah militants involved in aiding the establishment of a Hamas infrastructure in the northern West Bank city of Nablus. The PA was particularly struck by the involvement of its own forces in working for Hamas since Nablus is a major Fatah stronghold.
The PA sources said they recently arrested a Palestinian doctor who admitted to smuggling about $1 million into Nablus for the purpose of procuring weapons for Hamas. The sources said a number of Fatah militants aided the doctor, knowing they were working for Hamas.
While the funds were confiscated, PA sources told WND that Hamas has successfully smuggled cash into other West Bank cities to establish a military wing.
The sources said the PA in recent months discovered millions of dollars in cash with Hamas militants in key Fatah-controlled cities, such as Ramallah and Jenin. 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, another 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 in December 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 past two years, the U.S. stepped up its efforts at training the PA, running more advanced courses guided by Keith Dayton, the U.S. security coordinator to the Palestinian territories, who in 2007 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.
Nevertheless, 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.