JERUSALEM – Israel yesterday captured an Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades member while he was engaging in terror-supporting activity but let him go after it was determined he was on a list of wanted gunmen granted amnesty by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, WND has learned.
Part of the amnesty deal required the 178 terrorists – all of whom are members of the Brigades, the declared “military wing” of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah’s organization – to sign a document stating they will not engage in terrorist activity and that they would restrict their movements to the city in which they reside for three months.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades took responsibility along with Islamic Jihad for every suicide bombing in Israel the past three years. The amnesty agreement reportedly was made as an Israeli gesture to Abbas’ and to bolster Fatah against Hamas in the West Bank.
The incident in question occurred last night at 8:30 p.m. Jerusalem time when the Israel Defense Forces stopped what security sources said were four suspicious Palestinians entering the al-Badin checkpoint outside the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
Two Palestinians were immediately let go when it was determined they were civilians, but the two others – known Brigades members – were detained after they were found to be carrying large quantities of bullets security sources said were being smuggled from the city of Jenin to Nablus.
According to security sources, the Brigades members normally reside in Nablus and had left the city and purchased the bullets in Jenin. They were captured upon trying to reenter Nablus. In line with the amnesty agreement, the one terrorist on the list had pledged to restrict his movements and remain in Nablus. The sources said the listed militant told the IDF repeatedly he was on Israel’s amnesty list and that arresting him would “blow up” relations with the PA.
After consulting with superiors, the IDF released the Brigades member on the amnesty list but arrested the other gunmen.
Asked to comment, the IDF did not deny the incident:
“We make our arrests in accordance with the directives of the political echelon and the different agreements with the PA,” said an IDF spokesperson.
An Israeli security official told WND this isn’t the first time Brigades members granted amnesty violated their agreement to refrain from terrorism. He said the military is aware of one incident last month in which a Brigades gunman on the list shot at Israeli forces.
“We now have a situation in which a terrorist organization has been given a get-out-of-jail-free card – literally,” the official fumed.
Last month, Olmert granted amnesty to 178 Fatah militants who comprise much of the senior leadership of the Brigades. Israel issued documents for the Fatah fugitives to sign, pledging their resignation from any so-called paramilitary organizations and promising to refrain from terror activity.
The wanted militants also were required to turn in their weapons, spend a week in a PA holding area and restrict their movements to the area in which they reside for three months. After a three-month period, they would be allowed to move freely throughout the West Bank. Since most wanted militants have been confined to their residential areas the past few years anyway due to the threat of Israeli operations, the deal effectively grants them freedom of movement for the first time.
In exchange, Israel will not conduct anti-terror operations to capture the wanted militants.
According to statements by Palestinian officials and reports by the media, most terrorists turned in their weapons in line with the deal.
A widely circulated AP article this past weekend quoted a senior Palestinian security official stating “all but three Al Aqsa members have surrendered their weapons and sworn off violence, as part of the arrangement.”
But calls Monday to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades members who received amnesty yielded a much different story.
Abu Yousuf, a senior leader of the Brigades in Ramallah, told WND most Brigades members turned in one of several pieces of weaponry they possess. He said most Brigades members have two to three guns, including one to two personal weapons and one assault rifle issued by the PA, since the majority of Brigades members are also members of Fatah’s security forces.
“It’s true Brigades members turned in one of their weapons as a symbolic act, but they kept the others,” he said.
Yousuf is suspected of shooting at Israeli forces operating in Ramallah. He carried out a shooting attack in northern Samaria in December 2000 that killed Benyamin Kahane, leader of the nationalist Kahane Chai organization.
Ala Senakreh, overall chief of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank and one of the terrorists granted amnesty, told WND the one weapon he turned in to the PA is “easily accessible.”
“It’s close by and available to me anytime I need an additional weapon,” he said.
Senakreh said aside from “protecting” himself from Israel, weapons were also needed for protection from rival clans and members of Palestinian families of suspected “Israeli collaborators” killed in recent years by the Brigades.
“We killed several collaborators, so now I am a walking target. What if one of the family members tries to take revenge?” he asked.
Kamal Ranam, chief of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Ramallah, laughing, said he is still armed.
Not all Brigades members even signed their amnesty deals.
Nasser Abu Aziz, the No. 2 leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Senakreh’s main deputy, told WND he will not sign the agreement, calling the deal “an Israeli trick.”
“I am sure this is part of an Israeli conspiracy against our fighters,” Aziz said.
Meanwhile, according to senior Palestinian officials, Olmert officials said the prime minister would strongly consider granting amnesty to 206 more Fatah gunmen, mostly Brigades members, who haven’t yet officially received amnesty. Some of the 206 are senior Brigades commanders, but most are mid-level militants.
Asked to confirm the report, David Baker, an Olmert spokesman, did not reply with an answer as of press time.
Israeli diplomatic officials said amnesty wasn’t yet granted to some of the 206 militants because of the militants’ connections to the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. But seven senior terrorists granted amnesty by Olmert last month previously told WND on the record they serve as conduits for their terror group’s relationship with Hezbollah, and, according to Israeli security officials, the most important Brigades leaders who serve as Hezbollah conduits already received amnesty.
Won’t ‘look with a microscope’
Regardless of whether Olmert grants amnesty to the remaining 206 militants, according to Palestinian officials the Israeli prime minister already has given de facto immunity to the entire Brigades terror group and to all Fatah fighters in the West Bank.
“We were directly told Fatah fighters will not be targeted regardless of official amnesty,” the Palestinian official said, speaking on condition his name be withheld.
One senior Palestinian diplomat close to Abbas said officials from Olmert’s office pledged to Palestinian leaders the Jewish state would not “look with a microscope” at whether Brigades members keep the agreement.
“Olmert’s team told us they will not look into the disarming process with a microscope for single problematic cases. They said they will look at the macro not the micro level. Israel said if some wanted guy was still acting (committing attacks against Israel), they won’t explode everything just for that,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition his name be withheld.
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