IDF: Hilles clan won't boost terrorism

Civil Administration head says Fatah refugees not a threat, army's control in Jericho is "absolute."

hilles jericho 224 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
hilles jericho 224 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Israel does not fear a major terror escalation in the West Bank with the transfer of the Hilles clan to Jericho, head of the Civil Administration Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai said Monday. "The control of the IDF and security forces in Jericho is absolute, and anyone who deviates from normative behavior and engages in criminal activity or terror will be removed from there quickly," Mordechai said. Eighty-seven members of the heavily-armed Gaza-based Hilles clan, allied with Fatah, were put on two buses in Beersheba on Monday afternoon and transported to Jericho. The Palestinian Authority had set up a temporary residence for them near the Palestinian National Security headquarters, PA officials said. The decision to transport the group to Jericho was made overnight Sunday following intensive negotiations between Israel, led by Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, and the office of PA President Mahmoud Abbas Defense officials said that Abbas had initially told Israel to return the group to Gaza, but that Defense Minister Ehud Barak had decided otherwise after hearing an intelligence assessment from the IDF that the group would likely be arrested, and even killed, by Hamas upon its return to the Strip. Of the 188 Fatah members who entered Israel, 35 were sent back to Gaza on Sunday at the request of Abbas, who had initially asked Israel to treat the wounded and only facilitate the transfer to the West Bank of five members of the Hilles clan, including its leader, Ahmed Hilles. On Sunday, some 60 returned to Gaza, some of whom were arrested by Hamas. Security officials stressed that the Palestinians had undergone rigorous checks by the IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and that those suspected of involvement in terrorist activity were detained for questioning. Twenty-three Palestinians from the Hilles clan were being treated in two Israeli hospitals. Mordechai said that he personally boarded the buses on Monday and explained the ground rules to the Palestinians, who under the deal between Israel and the PA will not be allowed to leave Jericho. "I explained to them the difference between Gaza and the West Bank and how they will need to behave differently," he said. "None of them are saints, but none of them are mega-terrorists either, and each and every one of them was checked by the Shin Bet." Some residents of Jericho expressed fear that the presence of the Hilles clan members in their city would have a negative impact on tourism and increase the rate of crime. They pointed out that in recent months there had been an upsurge in the number of tourists visiting Jericho, especially Israeli Arab citizens who come to spend the weekend at the Jericho Resort Town and the Intercontinental Hotel. "Why didn't Abu Mazen [Abbas] take them to Ramallah?" asked a shopkeeper in the center of the city. "Why do they always send these guys to our city?" A restaurant owner noted that in the past he and some of his colleagues had been exposed to threats and extortion by Fatah gangsters who were "exiled" to Jericho by Israel and the PA. "May God help us," he commented upon learning that the Hilles men were about to be transferred to Jericho. "Many Fatah gunmen who were sent to Jericho over the past few years gave us a very hard time. I believe that the presence of the Hilles people here wills scare away many tourists." A senior PA official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that Abbas's initial decision not to host the Hilles men in the West Bank was taken out of concern that such a move would encourage other Palestinians to leave the Gaza Strip. "We don't want to empty the Gaza Strip of its residents," he explained. "If we start absorbing people from the Gaza Strip in the West Bank, we will see tens of thousands of Palestinians run away from the Hamas regime." The official revealed that the PA was planning to recruit some of the refugees to its security forces in the West Bank. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a top Fatah official and close aide to Abbas, accused "regional forces" of supporting Hamas's actions in the Gaza Strip. Although he did not name the forces, Palestinian sources said he was referring specifically to Iran and Syria. "These regional powers must stop meddling in Palestinian affairs," Abdel Rahman said. "The ongoing conflict [between Hamas and Fatah] only serves the interests of Israel." In a related development, Hamas's security forces on Monday arrested Hazem Abu Shanab, the Fatah spokesman in the Gaza Strip. Earlier, the Hamas government released 20 senior Fatah representatives who were arrested in the Gaza Strip over the past week. Among those released was Zakariya al-Agha, the most senior Fatah official in the Strip.