Israeli Security Officials Laud PA Crackdown on Hamas

PA forces continue to apprehend militants, and have made progress in Hamas' W. Bank strongholds.

The Palestinian Authority's security forces have shown marked improvement in their action against Hamas and Islamic Jihad recently, according to Israeli security officials. A particularly dramatic change has taken place over the past month in an area in which the PA had not been previously active - dealing with the Islamic charity and civilian associations considered to constitute Hamas' civilian infrastructure.

In recent weeks, the PA has managed to take control of a number of major charity organizations in Nablus and Hebron, areas that in the past were considered bastions of Hamas power. Meanwhile, the Palestinian security forces are continuing to apprehend wanted men affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

In Nablus, the PA has taken over a group of charity associations known as Tadamun (solidarity). The Hamas-operated organization includes a network of clinics, schools and other institutions. The PA dismissed the group's board and put its own supporters in charge. In addition, it placed Tadamun's funding under PA supervision to prevent money being transferred to Hamas.

The PA also dismissed the board of directors of a Nablus shopping center whose income went to Hamas. The Israel Defense Forces had shut down the center some two months ago because of its Hamas affiliation; it was reopened under PA leadership following a special agreement between the PA and Israel.

The PA also took over Al-Jamiyah Al-Khairiah, a Hamas-operated Islamic association active in the villages around Hebron. Palestinian Authority officials also closed a charity, Al Majma Al Islami, operating in the town of Dahariya, south of Hebron. West of Hebron, the authorities closed down a Hamas-operated Islamic cultural center, while in the village of Beit Ula the PA took over two schools operated by Al-Jamiyah Al-Khairiah. In the village of Beit Umar, north of Hebron, the leadership of an orphanage was replaced and at least two printing presses handling Hamas propaganda material were closed in Hebron.

Senior Palestinian sources told Haaretz that the PA had decided to sever connections between Hamas and dozens of charitable organizations, while continuing in its efforts to thwart terror. The sources said the PA had confiscated tons of explosives and numerous firearms in recent months and that arrests of Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives were ongoing.

The sources did concede that most of those arrested were jailed for a short while only.

In response to lessons learned from Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, a source said the PA "has changed the structure of the Palestinian security forces and extensively reformed their senior command." The source also told Haaretz the forces were still being trained abroad and had received better equipment.

The head of the Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin, told the cabinet last Sunday: "The Palestinians saw how we operated against Hamas' financial infrastructure in Nablus and Hebron. They understood that either they would act or we would. Since then we have seen a rise in the quality of their action against Hamas."

Diskin told the ministers that some 200 Hamas activists have been arrested in recent months and are still being held in PA detention facilities and that 45 Hamas-affiliated institutions have been closed down. He confirmed there was closer supervision of bank accounts through which funding had been channeled to terror activities and said that in some cases Hamas bank accounts had been confiscated.

However, the Shin Bet chief also said the PA was still not acting directly against Hamas' military networks in the West Bank. He said the PA was still weak in what the Shin Bet calls the "chain" whose operation thwarts terror attacks against Israel: arrests, the detaining of suspects, investigations, trials and prison sentences for those active in terror.