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The Palestinian Authority security forces have failed to thwart Hamas's efforts to create new armed cells in the West Bank, a senior PA security official here said Sunday.
Hamas's armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, had become "very active" in some parts of the West Bank despite a crackdown order by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas against the group, he told The Jerusalem Post.
Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports said Jibril Rajoub, an Abbas confidant and former PA security chief, recently held secret talks in Damascus with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in a bid to resolve the Hamas-Fatah dispute.
Rajoub, who is being mentioned as a possible successor to Abbas, also held talks in Cairo with top Egyptian political and security officials on ways of ending the crisis. Fatah officials have strongly denied they were engaged in any form of talks with Hamas.
The security official in Ramallah said Hamas gunmen were working in coordination with other armed groups in the West Bank, including ones belonging to Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad.
"We are very worried about what's happening in the West Bank, especially in Nablus, where Izzadin Kassam appears to have resumed its activities after a long lull," the official said. "In recent weeks the group has been launching almost daily attacks on Israeli military patrols... particularly in the northern West Bank."
PA security forces have rounded up nearly 200 Hamas activists in the West Bank since Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip in June, but most of the detainees are not linked to Izzadin Kassam.
"We are going after the wrong guys," the official said. "We are detaining journalists, university students and low-level political operatives. Meanwhile, Izzadin Kassam is establishing secret cells and acquiring more weapons."
The Fatah-controlled PA security forces have also failed to gather sufficient intelligence about Hamas's attempts to recruit West Bank residents to its paramilitary Executive Force, he said.
PA officials are convinced Hamas is secretly trying to establish an Executive Force in the West Bank as a first step toward overthrowing Abbas's regime.
PA security officials said earlier this month they had uncovered a Hamas cell in the Bethlehem area whose members had received instructions from the Hamas leadership in Syria to establish an Executive Force unit. The 13-member cell was led by Nader Muhammad Jubran.
But after three weeks of questioning, Jubran and his cohorts were released from prison. A PA security commander in Bethlehem told the Post the men were released because of lack of evidence.
The PA security forces will continue to follow the movements of the cell members to make sure they don't pursue their plans to establish a security force, he said.
"The cell was operating on direct instructions from the top Hamas leadership in Damascus," the security commander said. "Some of the Hamas men have been receiving assistance from Fatah gunmen and this is very worrying."
He said a cell belonging to Izzadin Kassam was behind the assassination attempt on Col. Idris Ja'bari, the commander of the PA security forces in Halhoul, near Hebron, earlier this month.
Ja'bari was critically wounded when gunmen shot him outside his home. He had been responsible for the detention of scores of Hamas activists in the area over the past two months.