PA Suspects Former Fatah Strongman in Gaza Recruiting for New Armed Militia

PA security forces question Fatah activists about their ties to Mohammed Dahlan and whether they received instructions or funds from him in connection to the purchase of weapons.

Palestinian Authority security forces recently questioned Fatah activists on suspicion they had been recruited to form an armed militia, sources in the Fatah movement said. The PA indicated Fatah Central Committee member Mohammed Dahlan had done the recruiting for the militia, which he also intended to command.

The suspects were summoned for questioning about their ties to Dahlan and whether they received instructions or funds from him in connection with the purchase of weapons. They were then released.

Abbas and Dahlan (AP)

According to sources in Fatah, the suspects admitted to receiving money from representatives of Dahlan, who, before the Hamas takeover in 2007, had been a strongman figure in the Gaza Strip.

Some of the suspects were also said to have purchased weapons. Fatah sources in the northern West Bank confirmed this account to Haaretz.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has recently taken action against Dahlan as part of an effort to reduce his standing, after the latter expressed harsh criticism of the Palestinian president. Among the steps taken against Dahlan include the removal of the security detail at his home and office and the closure of the television station he owns, which was due to go on air next month.

Dahlan associates - including Yusef Issa Yakub, who until recently served as the deputy to the commander of the PA's Preventative Security Force - have also been removed from their positions.

Considered until recently to be one of the strongest figures in Fatah, Dahlan, 49, lives in both Ramallah and Cairo. Many in the movement, however, attributed the failure to head off the Hamas takeover of Gaza to Dahlan. He created enemies not only within his organization, but also in Hamas, for moving against the Islamic group in the 1990s and in the months prior to its takeover of the Strip.

Over the past year, Fatah leadership, including Abbas himself, received increasing numbers of accounts of Dahlan voicing open criticism of the Palestinian president. About two months ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Dahlan was part of a group that intended to have Abbas replaced by Nasser al-Kidwa, a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

There were also reports that Dahlan had publicly disparaged Abbas' son during conversations with Palestine Liberation Organization representatives abroad.

Furthermore, Dahlan was said to have condemned the PA president in discussions with a Palestinian representative to an Arab country and in talks with a Europe-based representative. At one stage, Dahlan left the West Bank in an effort to avoid friction with Abbas, and did not make an appearance at the most recent meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council. He did, however, attend the wedding of the daughter of Palestinian activist Marwan Barghouti, an event at which Abbas was also present.

Dahlan returned to the West Bank this week and is expected to participate in meetings of the Fatah leadership, after Abbas consented to his apparent rival's presence. The Fatah Central Committee has, however, appointed an investigative committee to look into the allegations against Dahlan and the reasons behind the friction between he and Abbas.

Sources tell Haaretz that the committee will also investigate the origins of Dahlan's personal wealth. Dahlan's associates called the allegations against the former Gaza strongman mere rumors.