JERUSALEM – Hamas today carried out an ambush in which it obtained an American weapons shipment transferred last night to militias in the Gaza Strip associated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, top Hamas officials told WND.
Fatah at first told reporters the shipment contained medical equipment and tents and then claimed the shipment consisted of engineering equipment.
The U.S. weapons were provided to Abbas purportedly to bolster Fatah forces against Hamas, according to defense sources. The two factions have engaged in nearly two months of deadly clashes after Abbas called for new Palestinian elections in a move widely seen as an attempt to dismantle the Hamas-led PA.
Palestinian officials and sources in the Israeli Defense Forces told WND four trucks filled with U.S. weapons were transported last night from Egypt through the Kerem Shalom crossing into Israel and from there delivered by an IDF convoy to Fatah security officials.
The American weapons shipment, the sources said, contained rocket-propelled grenades, more than 1 million rounds of ammunition and bullet-proof vests.
Officials from Force 17, Abbas’ security detail which also serves as de facto police units in Gaza, told WND the U.S. weapons were received last night and were brought for distribution to the Ansar compound, a complex in northern Gaza housing headquarters of Fatah militias.
Today, while Force 17 were transporting the American weapons shipment for distribution to militias, Hamas ambushed the convoy and obtained the shipment, Hamas officials said.
A battle raged between Hamas gunmen and Force 17 guards accompanying the convoy, according to residents in the area who said a civilian was killed.
Hospital officials said 17 people, including two children, were wounded in the clash, the fiercest since violence this weekend in which 33 Palestinians were killed.
“We are in possession of American rocket-propelled grenades,” a leader of Hamas’ so-called military wing told WND.
“This will prove to the Americans their conspiracy of toppling our government will be used against them.”
Fatah spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa told reporters the attacked convoy was carrying generators, tents and medical equipment.
“There are no weapons at all,” said Abu Khoussa, adding the ambush “represented a grave danger to the continuation of the (cease-fire) agreement.”
Abu Khoussa did not explain why Fatah would transport tents and medical supplies in protected convoys.
Fatah sources confirmed to WND prior to the ambush that the U.S. weapons were received last night and were being transported today for distribution.
Hamas leaders told WND they will “prove to the world we obtained weapons.”
Hamas and Fatah are now engaged in heated going battles surrounding the Ansar Fatah military complex, with Hamas leaders vowing to take over the complex.
The U.S. has been reportedly providing Abbas’ forces with aid and weapons.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier this month told reporters the U.S. is working with Fatah to create a unified Palestinian security force. The Bush administration reportedly will grant $86.4 million to strengthen the Fatah forces, including Force 17, Abbas’ security detail, which also serves as de facto police units in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
WND reported the U.S. in recent weeks transferred 7,000 assault rifles and more than 1 million rounds of ammunition to Fatah militias.
The last confirmed American arms shipment to Fatah took place in May. At first, the shipment, consisting of 3,000 rifles, was denied by the U.S. and Israel, but Olmert in June admitted the transfer took place, telling reporters, “I needed to approve the shipment to help bolster Abbas.”
At the time, Abu Yousuf, a Fatah militant from Abba’s Force 17 security forces, told WND while some of the weapons may be used in confrontations against Hamas, the bulk of the American arms would be utilized to “hit the Zionists.”
He said if there is a major conflict with Israel, U.S. weapons provided to Fatah may be shared with other “Palestinian resistance organizations.”
“The first place of these U.S. weapons will be to defend the Palestinian national project, which is reflected by the foundation of the Palestinian Authority. If Hamas or any other group under the influence of Iran and Syria wants to make a coup de tat against our institution, these weapons are there to defend the PA,” said Abu Yousuf.
“We don’t want to go to civil war with Hamas, because this is what both the U.S. and Israel want. This is our last option. We hope our brothers in Hamas won’t oblige us to find ourselves in confrontation,” Abu Yousuf said.
But the Fatah militant said the new American weapons may also be used to target Israelis. He admitted previous American arms supplied to Fatah were used in “resistance operations” against the Jewish state.
“If Israel will deliver what it promised to Abu Mazen (Abbas), [meaning a] withdrawal from Palestinian lands, including east Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, remove all the checkpoints in the West Bank, release our prisoners, and find a clear solution for our refugees, we’ll control our forces and the distribution of weapons.
“But if Israel doesn’t deliver, and we find ourselves manipulated by Israel, we cannot guarantee members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Force 17 will not use these weapons against Israel. Our goal is to change the occupation,” said Abu Yousuf.
“Its unnatural to think these American weapons won’t be used against the Israelis,” he said.
Like some other Force 17 members, Abu Yousuf is openly also a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
All Brigades leaders are also members of Fatah. Abbas last June appointed senior Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades leader Mahmoud Damra as commander of Force 17. Damra, who was arrested by Israel in November, was on the Jewish state’s most-wanted list of terrorists.
Abu Yousuf said the American weapons shipments may be shared with other Palestinian terror groups. He said that during large confrontations with Israel, such as the Jewish state’s 2002 anti-terror raid in Jenin, Fatah distributed weapons to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
“We don’t look where this piece or that piece of weapon came from when fighting the Israelis,” Abu Yousuf said.
He also pointed to what he said was Hamas’ infiltration of some of Fatah’s security forces as a possible mechanism Hamas can use to obtain Fatah’s American-supplied weapons.
A senior Fatah security official, speaking last week to WND on condition his name be withheld, says Fatah has a “significant problem” of its militia members in Gaza joining Hamas.
Sources close to Hamas said the Fatah militants, including members of Force 17, worked with Hamas after receiving larger paychecks from the terror group.
“When they join Hamas, they bring along their new weapons,” said a Hamas source.
During a WND interview last week, Hamas spokesman Abu Oubaida told WND his terror group will obtain any American weapons transferred to Fatah militias or purchased by Fatah using the incoming $86.4 million in U.S. aid.
“I am sure that like in the past, this $86 million from America will find its way to the Hamas resistance via the honorable persons in the Fatah security organizations, including in Force 17. I can confirm 100 percent that this money and purchased weapons will find its way to Hamas,” said Abu Oubaida.
Would you like to interview WND Jerusalem bureau chief Aaron Klein? Let us know.