JERUSALEM – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today admitted she cannot guarantee U.S. funding for security forces associated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah organization would not reach "the wrong hands."
Rice said she would reduce a funding request for Fatah forces following concerns last month expressed by key lawmakers that some of the money would be used for terror-related purposes.
The Bush administration in January pledged $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.
At the time, Abu Yousuf, a Fatah militant from Abba's Force 17 security forces, told WND while U.S. funds and weapons being transferred to his group would be utilized to "hit the Zionists."
Last month, Congress placed a hold on the $86 million transfer pending a clarification from Rice as to where exactly the money would end up.
During a hearing today before the House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee, Rice said she would make a new request for less money.
She conceded, "It will request less money, precisely because some of the money that I would have requested I did not think I could fully account for."
She did not say how much money would be cut from the original request.
"I hope that is a sign for you that we take very seriously our responsibilities," she said. "I have no interest in having to come here one day and say, 'you know this funding did not end up in the right place.' I will do my very best," she told the committee.
While the aid is being temporarily blocked, it wasn't immediately clear if U.S. weapons would continue to be transferred to Fatah. The U.S. has been regularly shipping convoys of weapons to Fatah security forces in Gaza and the West Bank.
WND reported the U.S. in February transferred 7,000 assault rifles and more than 1 million rounds of ammunition to Fatah militias.
According to Palestinian officials, no U.S. weapons have been transferred since last week's unity government was forged.
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."
Fatah's Abu Yousuf told WND 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.
"It's 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.
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