JERUSALEM – The United States last week sent diplomatic messages to the Palestinians that if aid were requested, America would bolster Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Fatah organization in clashes against Hamas, including providing Fatah with U.S. weapons, according to senior Israeli and Palestinian diplomatic sources.
The sources said Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton, the U.S. security coordinator for the Gaza Strip and West Bank, passed messages to Abbas that America would aid Fatah with assault rifles and ammunition if the assistance is needed. The sources also said Dayton urged Israel to provide assistance to bolster Abbas’ security forces in Gaza, particularly Force 17, Abbas’ security detail which also serve as de facto police officers.
Many members of Force 17 are openly members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group, Fatah’s declared “military wing” which took responsibility for every suicide bombing in Israel the past two years. The Jewish state regularly arrests Force 17 members accused of carrying out shooting attacks against Israelis.
After forging a unity government in February that ended several rounds of deadly factional Palestinian infighting, Fatah and Hamas last week engaged in heated gun battles killing 53 Palestinians in some of the deadliest internal clashes in Gaza in months. Abbas’ decision to station thousands of loyalist security forces on the streets of Gaza without consulting Hamas touched off the violence.
Yesterday, Fatah and Hamas attempted a fifth cease-fire in seven days, but the truce got off to a shaky start after a gun battle erupted outside the home of a senior Fatah official and both Hamas and Fatah abducted rival members.
U.S. policy largely considers Fatah “moderate,” while the State Department labels Hamas a terror group.
The reported U.S. willingness to send weapons to Fatah comes after WND reported Hamas last week obtained a shipment of American rifles sent in recent months.
Last Sunday, after a Fatah gunman shot a Hamas member, a Fatah convoy of three trucks was stopped by Hamas at a makeshift checkpoint at Dabit Circle, a northern Gaza town, according to Hamas sources. Hamas abducted 18 Fatah gunmen and seized stockpiles of American weapons that were in the vans, the sources said.
According to Israeli and Palestinian security officials and Hamas sources, Hamas militias in recent months have taken almost complete control of the northern Gaza Strip, including areas from which rockets are launched regularly into nearby Jewish communities. The officials said Fatah, which is backed by the U.S., is restricted to acting within a half-mile radius of a major Fatah military compound. Hamas has set up roadblocks and checkpoints throughout northern Gaza to ensure Fatah militias remain near their compound.
The U.S. in recent months reportedly transferred large quantities of weapons to Fatah, purportedly to back Abbas’ military organizations against Hamas.
The last confirmed U.S. weapons transfer to the Palestinians took place last May and consisted of 3,000 assault rifles, but WND reported multiple other transfers later were delivered to Fatah, including a cache of 7,000 rifles last January and about 8,000 assault rifles in February.
While the weapons were meant to bolster Fatah in Gaza, Hamas has reportedly won most battles against the U.S.-backed militias. WND reported last month a Fatah militia in Beit Lehiya, a major city in the northern Gaza Strip, surrendered to Hamas forces after reaching an agreement in which the Fatah militants stated they will evacuate the city and depart the Gaza Strip.
The Fatah force in Beit Lehiya consisted of about 40 senior officers from Force 17, the Palestinian Preventative Security Services and the General Security Services. The leader of the Force was Samih El- Madhun, who is also openly a senior leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group.
Last weekend, according to Palestinian security sources, Baha Abu Jarad, a Fatah strongman in Gaza, surrendered a large swath of territory to Hamas, nearly completing Hamas’ grasp on the northern Gaza Strip.
In February, after a shipment of U.S. weapons reached Fatah, Hamas spokesman Abu Oubaida told WND his terror group would obtain any American weapons transferred to Fatah militias or purchased by Fatah using U.S. aid.
Congress last month approved $59 million in aid to Fatah’s militias after an earlier Bush administration pledge of $86.4 million was blocked for fear the money might reach terrorists. The aid package contains a new qualification stipulating the money must not be used to purchase weapons.
The vast majority of the U.S. aid is slated to bolster Abbas’ Force 17 security forces.
Israel has raided Force 17 compounds on multiple occasions and arrested wanted terrorists from the units. WND reported Israel earlier this month arrested 18 Fatah fighters in the West Bank wanted for shootings against Israeli civilians. Seventeen of those arrested also were members of the Brigades, Israeli and Palestinian security officials said. Israel this weekend conducted a raid of a Fatah complex in Ramallah and arrested a Force 17 fighter wanted for anti-Israeli shootings.
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.
WND last month quoted Israeli and Palestinian security officials stating intelligence and security organizations associated with Fatah, including Force 17, are infiltrated by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations.
A top Palestinian intelligence official admitted to WND: “We are leading a large number of investigations and some of the results prove that such an infiltration by Hamas (of Fatah’s security and intelligence forces) exists.”
The official oversees intelligence for Fatah’s police forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“I can say that in some cases we diagnosed a deep infiltration to high posts in some Fatah security services,” the high-ranking Palestinian intelligence officer told WND. “In some cases we believe there are officers that are exposed to very sensitive information.”
He said since the U.S. announced it is providing Abbas’ forces with additional funds, Fatah intelligence officials at the direction of American security coordinators here have been attempting to expel Hamas infiltrators. He said in the past month “dozens” of members of Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees and Islamic Jihad were found operating in the Fatah forces.
The U.S. has been attempting to isolate Hamas, which it labels a terrorist group. The Popular Resistance Committees regularly carries out rocket and shooting attacks and took credit for a 2003 bombing in Gaza that killed three American contractors.
Terrorists: We infiltrated U.S.-funded militias
Terror leaders and spokesmen for terror groups told WND their militants are “well-placed” within Fatah’s militias.
Muhammad Abdel El, spokesman for the Committees, told WND last week Fatah’s attempts to discover militants from his group “have not even scratched the surface of our infiltration.”
“We are very well-placed within Fatah’s units and their little investigations made no difference,” he said.
Abu Abdullah, a leader of Hamas’ military wing in the Gaza Strip, told WND, “It doesn’t seem Fatah’s campaign to oust Hamas from inside their organizations has made a difference for us as far as our penetration of Fatah.”
Fatah attempts to expel Hamas members from its midst might be in vain since the two factions last month agreed to forge their militias together and incorporate Hamas militias and terror cells into a unified security force under the authority Abbas.
The PA cabinet yesterday approved a comprehensive security plan that incorporates Fatah and Hamas militias into one central organization. According to the plan, Hamas’ so-called military wing, responsible for scores of anti-Israel terror attacks, will be allowed to continue operating under the aegis of the PA’s Interior Ministry. The plan calls for all armed organizations, including the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group, to maintain a single operations center under the authority of Abbas.
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