PA to merge Aksa Brigades into its security forces

Abbas orders probe into Fatah's defeat by Hamas in Gaza Strip.

al aksa gunman 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
al aksa gunman 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
RAMALLAH - The Palestinian Authority denied over the weekend that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas had decided to dismantle Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, in the West Bank. Sources close to Abbas said the only decision that was taken in this regard was to incorporate the Fatah gunmen into the PA security forces in the West Bank. "All the members of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades will become official members of the security forces," the sources said. "We want them to become a legitimate force operating within the frame of the Palestinian security forces." According to the sources, the Fatah militiamen will be placed under the direct jurisdiction of Abbas. "The group will be allowed to retain its name and status," the explained. "The group won't be dismantled." On Thursday, the Fatah leadership called on Abbas to dismantle all militias and armed gangs operating in the West Bank as part of a plan to restore law and order. The decision drew sharp reactions from members of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, who said they would resist any attempt to break up the group or confiscate its weapons. Zakariya Zubeidi, a leading commander of the group in the Jenin area, said his men would not surrender their weapons unless they received assurances from Abbas that the Palestinian issue would be solved in a just and comprehensive manner. Zubeidi warned against dismantling any armed Palestinian group as part of a US-backed plan to end the "resistance" against Israel. "We won't give in our weapons as long as the occupation exists and is continuing to target our leaders and members," he said. Zubeidi said that while he and his men supported Abbas's effort to confiscate illegal weapons, they were strongly opposed to any measure to take weapons that are being used against Israel. The Bethlehem-based Maan news agency quoted Abu Fuad, a spokesman for the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank, as saying that Abbas had agreed to merge the group into the Palestinian security forces. "There is no decision to dismantle the Aksa Martyrs Brigades," he stressed. "The president only wants to turn us into a legitimate force. This is the agreement we reached with the president." In a separate development, Abbas decided over the weekend to form a commission of inquiry to examine the reasons behind Fatah's failure to prevent Hamas from taking control over the entire Gaza Strip. Abbas also decided to fire Gen. Rashid Abu Shabak, the top Fatah security commander in the Gaza Strip, who was one of the first to flee the Gaza Strip. Abu Shabak fled immediately after Hamas militiamen raided his villa in Gaza City and killed six of his bodyguards. Another top Fatah officer, Col. Suleiman Khader, was dismissed and demoted in rank for running away and failing to defend PA security installations. The commission of inquiry is headed by Zakariya al-Agha, a veteran Fatah leader from the Gaza Strip. He will be aided by four Fatah officials: Hisham Abdel Razek, Ibrahim Abu Naja, Ahmed Nasr and Suleiman Abdel Razek. Fatah officials said the commission, which will begin its work this week, has been given the power to summon anyone it wants to testify before its members. "Many heads in Fatah will be rolling soon," they added. "Those who were responsible for the defeat of Fatah will pay a very heavy price." Abbas has refused to meet with most of the 50 top Fatah security commanders and officials who fled to Ramallah last week after Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip, the officials said, adding that the majority of them would be placed under house arrest pending the findings of the inquiry. A senior PA official here claimed that Hamas militiamen and officials raided the residence of Yasser Arafat in Gaza City for the second time in less than a week. The official said that Hamas was planning to repair the damage caused to the two-story villa when it was looted by dozens of Palestinians during the Hamas-Fatah fighting. The looters stole Arafat's Nobel Peace Prize and other personal items. "Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is planning to hold a press conference inside the villa to show the world that it wasn't damaged," the official said. "We call on the Hamas militiamen to leave Arafat's house immediately and to stop their crimes and lies."