With eye on Hamas, Fatah enlists 4,000
The Preventive Security Forces in Gaza and other centrist Fatah forces under the command of Mohammed Dahlan recently recruited over 4,000 young Palestinians to their ranks in anticipation of a potential confrontation with Hamas.
About 2,500 men volunteered for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and Al-Asifa in the southern Gaza Strip, while the remainder will serve as rank-and-file soldiers in the Preventive Security Forces.
Talks between Fatah and Hamas on the prisoners' document, which calls for Israel's return to the '67 borders, are continuing. The speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Sheikh Aziz Dweik, said yesterday that the organizations could reach an agreement within two days.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said yesterday that the talks were held in a very positive atmosphere and expressed his hope that a resolution would be possible within a few days.
Two Islamic Jihad militants were killed in an Israel Defense Forces operation in Gaza on Friday night. IDF officials claim the two had an active role in firing Qassam rockets at Israel recently.
Dahlan's Preventive Security Forces is in the front lines of Fatah's fighting with Hamas. A few of the forces' senior officers have been killed or injured recently in defensive actions. In the most recent incident, Hamas militants ambushed the forces' local commander in Khan Yunis, Rifat Kulab, shooting and wounding him. They later went to his home and set it on fire.
In the past two months, two groups, of 750 fresh recruits each, underwent basic training at the force's Tel al-Hawa base before being absorbed into the new "operational force" that is under the authority of the preventive forces. Rashid Abu Shabak, one of Dahlan's closest friends, is the commander of the preventive forces.
An additional 800 young men from the northern Gaza Strip - Beit Lahia, Beit Hanun and the Jabalya refugee camp - were absorbed into an independent force that will become the Fatah's reserve unit. They were also trained at Tel al-Hawa.
The largest new force was created in the southern Gaza Strip, in the Rafah and Khan Yunis area. Al-Asifa ("the storm," which took its name from Fatah's military force of the 1960s-'80s) is under the command of Abd Al-Rauf Barbah, an officer from the Preventive Security Forces who is considered a "very colorful" figure in Gaza. He recruited 1,500 young men who underwent basic arms training. His forces were not, however, involved in the battles near the force's headquarters in Rafah, which Hamas attempted to take over.
Rumors are circulating in Gaza concerning the source of the funds for training the new soldiers, but neither it nor the exact connection of Dahlan to the new military frameworks is clearly defined. All the commanders are thought to be close to him. But he denies all connection to the activities of the preventive forces or to Al-Aqsa. However, the Hamas posters in Gaza denouncing the former commander's continuing connection to the forces speak for themselves.
Palestinian sources say the recent signups are not connected to the reinforcement of Abbas' presidential guard.
Shlomo Shamir adds: "[Hamas] say they're besieged, but Arafat [and Fatah were] besieged ... but never did anything to provoke civil war, and we never stopped salaries either," Dahlan said Friday in an interview published yesterday in The New York Times, in which he described last Wednesday's meeting between Abbas and Haniyeh.