Mahmoud Abbas

TEL AVIV – Hamas today seized control of large caches of U.S. weapons, including eight American armored personnel carriers provided to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, according to Hamas leaders and Fatah sources.

Stepping up its power struggle with Fatah, Hamas today launched attacks against U.S.-backed installations of Fatah security forces, completely taking a number of Fatah security buildings in Gaza and laying siege to others. According to Palestinian security officials, Hamas now controls most installations of Fatah forces in the northern Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis and about 50 percent of Fatah’s central Gaza infrastructure.

Fatah officials said Hamas was attempting a total “coup” of Gaza.

Hamas earlier today seized several Fatah positions in Khan Yunis. Elsewhere in the northern Gaza Strip, about 200 Hamas gunmen surrounded a compound where some 500 Fatah fighters were holed up. Hamas fired mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at the building.

“They are attacking from all sides,” said one of the officers, Khaled Awad.

One Palestinian security official told WND Fatah fighters today were “crying all day into their radios asking to be evacuated.”

Fatah’s television network most of the day broadcast images of Fatah forces being overwhelmed by Hamas.

Hamas leaders told WND they seized stockpiles of U.S. weapons today when they took control of a number of Fatah headquarters. They said they also took possession of eight American armored personnel carriers provided to Abbas’ Fatah party the last few years.

The U.S. had the past year given large quantities of weapons to bolster Fatah in clashes against Hamas. Hamas officials repeatedly told WND they would seize any American weaponry provided to Fatah in Gaza.

WND reported last week Abbas in recent days petitioned Israel to allow more weapons and munitions – including assault rifles provided by the U.S. – to reach his fighters in the Gaza Strip to bolster them against Hamas, according to diplomatic sources.

WND has learned the weapons shipments awaiting Fatah include more than 1,000 American assault rifles and 1 million rounds of ammunition provided by the U.S. and coordinated by Keith Dayton, the U.S. security director for the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Last month WND reported Washington sent diplomatic messages to the Palestinians that if aid were requested, the U.S. would bolster the Fatah organization in clashes against Hamas, including providing Fatah’s Force 17 with weapons. Force 17 serve as de facto police officers in Gaza and the West Bank.

The last confirmed U.S. weapons transfer to Force 17 took place in May 2006 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 in January and about 8,000 assault rifles in February.

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 month engaged in heated gun battles killing 53 Palestinians in some of the deadliest internal clashes in Gaza in months.

Today saw the greatest Hamas advance in the Gaza Strip to date.

Abu Abdullah, considered one of the most important operational members of Hamas’ so-called military wing, told WND Hamas could take complete control of Gaza within two days.

“We haven’t been given clear instructions to take all of Gaza yet,” Abu Abdullah said.

Abu Abdullah said while Hamas seized a number of Fatah security headquarters, they were holding off “for political reasons” from taking control of several major Fatah bases and Abbas’ main Gaza compound.

“But we can take everything if we are told,” he said.

He said Hamas imposed closures on all Fatah security buildings in the northern Gaza Strip, limiting Fatah’s travel ability to a few city blocks.

Aside from their takeover of Fatah bases, Hamas gunmen also took control of a major European hospital in Khan Yunis, making it the third medical center to come under Hamas control in three days.

Hamas then warned over a mosque loudspeaker it would attack the main headquarters of the Preventive Security Service in Gaza City. The PSS is a major Fatah force.

“The warning which we have given you to surrender has ended, and we will attack this position of Zionist collaborators,” the Hamas message said.

Earlier today, in one of the few brazen Fatah displays, Fatah gunmen attacked the home of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas in a refugee camp near Gaza City for the second time the last three days.

Hamas branded the assault with a rocket-propelled grenade an assassination attempt. Haniyeh and his family were in the house but unhurt.

Also today a deputy cabinet minister from Hamas was abducted by Fatah militants, but the kidnapping took place in the West Bank, where Fatah is stronger.

West Bank leaders of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades threatened “holy hell” on Hamas in the West Bank if the terror group continued its attacks in Gaza.

Hamas beating U.S.-backed militias

While the U.S. in recent months reportedly transferred large quantities of weapons to Fatah in Gaza, Hamas has won most gun 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.

Three weeks ago, 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.

This weekend, in a sign of Fatah’s near collapse in Gaza, Rashid Abu Shabak, head of Fatah’s Preventative Security Services and considered the No. 2 Fatah strongman in Gaza, quit his post and evacuated his Gaza offices after they were threatened by Hamas. According to Palestinian security officials, Abu Shabak fled to Egypt, where he is expected to be named Abbas’ ambassador to Cairo.

The No. 1 Fatah strongman in Gaza, Mahmoud Dahlan, is under tight protection in the West Bank.

One Hamas leader pointed out if the U.S, provides more weapons to Fatah in Gaza there will be no one to receive them.

“All the senior Fatah defense officials are either in hiding or they fled,” the leader told WND.

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