PA policemen 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
There are signs that Fatah is preparing to launch a major operation against Hamas in the West Bank in the coming weeks ahead of expected turmoil when Mahmoud Abbas's term as PA president ends in January, a top IDF officer has told The Jerusalem Post.
Abbas's presidential term is scheduled to end on January 9, and the IDF Central Command is preparing for the possibility that Hamas will try to take advantage of political instability in Ramallah to take over West Bank towns and cities.
In the absence of elections or a compromise with Hamas, according to the Palestinian Authority constitution, Abbas will be replaced by the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Abdel Aziz Dweik, a member of Hamas who has been in an Israeli prison since August 2006.
The senior IDF officer said there was evidence that Fatah forces were planning a widespread West Bank operation against Hamas infrastructure and terrorist cells to weaken the Islamist group ahead of potential clashes in January.
"There are signs that Fatah is preparing something," the officer said, adding that the army had yet to decide what it would do under such circumstances - interfere or stay on the sidelines.
"There is no doubt, however, that we are in favor of Fatah taking responsibility for law and order in the West Bank, and that naturally includes cracking down on Hamas," he said.
The IDF has already begun assisting Abbas ahead of the expected violence. Two weeks ago the army agreed to allow a platoon of 150 PA soldiers to deploy in Hebron, a Hamas stronghold.
The platoon recently left for Jordan, where it is undergoing US-directed training, and is scheduled to return to the West Bank in late December.
"The idea is to strengthen Fatah in a city where Hamas is believed to be strong to be able to counter the potential threat," the officer said.
Meanwhile Saturday, PA officials told the London-based daily Asharq al-Awsat that Hamas might try to carry out a "hostile takeover" of the West Bank to bring down the Fatah-led government.
Palestinian sources told the pan-Arab paper that security forces were maintaining the highest level of alert and were acting preemptively by arresting Hamas operatives and cracking down on Hamas institutions.
"The experience in Gaza taught us not to trust them," one security source was quoted as saying by the paper.
Although these operations have been successful in reducing Hamas's capacity to carry out any form of military takeover, the sources emphasized that the Islamist group might still challenge Fatah hegemony through other means, like assassinating senior PA officials.
"Everything is possible, and we are on guard," a senior officer told the paper.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>