x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Hamas cell 'planned to attack Palestinian forces'

Police in Ramallah say they seized rocket-propelled grenades and launchers from a Hamas facility intended to be used against Palestinian security forces.

RAMALLAH // Palestinian police said Wednesday they uncovered a Ramallah-based Hamas cell that stockpiled weapons intended for use against Palestinian security forces.

Major General Adnan Damiri, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority's security forces, said the cell had been discovered two months ago.

"We seized their weapons, which were intended to target the (Palestinian) national authority and were not intended for use against Israel," he said.

Damiri declined to say how many people were involved in the group, but said a raid on their facilities seized "four rocket launchers and 17 rocket-propelled grenades."

In November, the Palestinian Authority said it had arrested members of a Hamas cell in Nablus, which it said was planning to assassinate the governor of the northern West Bank city.

Damiri accused Hamas of inciting violence against the Palestinian Authority security forces with the goal of weakening Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

"The security establishment considers the actions of Hamas in Gaza and Damascus to be very dangerous... and their language contains a direct call to murder and a direct call to civil war," he said.

Hamas and Fatah have had tense relations for years, and resentment boiled over after the Islamist group won elections in 2006.

A year later, Hamas routed Fatah in bloody fighting in the Gaza Strip and took control of the coastal enclave.

The parties held two rounds of fruitless reconciliation talks in Damascus in September and November this year, with little progress expected in coming months.

On Tuesday, Hamas accused Abbas of undermining the reconciliation process with a wave of arrests in the West Bank.

"The continuing campaign of arrests and torture against members of Hamas in the West Bank proves that the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah ignore reconciliation," said Izzat al-Rishq, a Hamas politburo member in Damascus, where the group's leadership is based.

Already tense relations between the groups were further frayed this week with the revelation in leaked US diplomatic cables that Fatah asked Israel in 2007 to attack Hamas.

The cables leaked by whistleblower website WikiLeaks detail comments by the head of Israel's Shin Bet security agency, who told US officials that "demoralised" Fatah officials in Gaza Strip had asked for help against Hamas.

"They are approaching a zero-sum situation, and yet they ask us to attack Hamas," Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin told US officials. "They are desperate."

He went on to praise his organisation's "very good working relationship" with Abbas' security service, which he said shared with the Shin Bet "almost all the intelligence that it collects."