RAMALLAH – A long-wanted terrorist chief captured this week by Israeli forces was trained by the U.S., served in a senior capacity on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s U.S.-backed security detail, and was a ranking member of a team that received and distributed American arms shipments the past two years, The Jewish Press has learned.
Khaled Shawish, an officer in Abbas’s Force 17 presidential guards, was arrested Sunday by undercover Israeli police forces following scores of shooting attacks Shawish is suspected of carrying out.
Shawish doubles as Ramallah chief of the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades terror group. He previously boasted of involvement in a West Bank shooting attack in December 2000 that killed Israeli nationalist leader Benjamin Kahane and Kahane’s wife, Talya.
The Brigades, the declared “military wing” of Abbas’s Fatah party, took credit along with the Islamic Jihad terror group for every suicide bombing in Israel the past two years and for multiple deadly shootings and rocket attacks.
After the Kahane murder, Shawish was invited by Arafat to live in the late PLO leader’s Ramallah compound, widely known as the Muqata.
Shawish lived in the Muqata for the past seven years. From there, according to Israeli security officials, he directed scores of shootings against Israelis driving on West Bank roads.
Israel says Shawish also directed a number of suicide bombings that killed eight Israelis.
According to Israeli and Palestinian security sources, Shawish, as a member of Force 17, received U.S. training in 1997 at an American-managed military base in the West Bank city of Jericho. The base continues to train Force 17 members. Many other Brigades members who also double as Force 17 officers have received U.S. training.
The U.S. in recent months reportedly transferred large quantities of weapons to Fatah, purportedly to back Abbas’s military organizations in recent deadly clashes with Hamas.
The last confirmed U.S. weapons transfer to the Palestinians took place last May and consisted of 3,000 assault rifles, but The Jewish Press reported that several other transfers were later made to Fatah – including a cache of 7,000 rifles last January and about 8,000 assault rifles in February.
The weapons mostly arrived in convoys through the Jordan-Israel border and were then reportedly trucked by the Israeli Defense Forces to the Gaza Strip and to Ramallah. The Ramallah shipments were received at the Muqata and at a neighboring Force 17 base in which Shawish lives, according to Israeli and Palestinian security sources.
The sources said Shawish was part of the Force 17 team that inspected and distributed the American weapons to other Fatah militia members. According to the sources, Shawish over the past two years has taken possession of a number of American assault rifles.
Congress last month approved $59 million in aid to Fatah’s militias after an earlier Bush administration pledge of $86.4 million was blocked for fear the money might reach terrorists. The vast majority of the U.S. aid is slated to bolster Abbas’s Force 17 security forces in clashes with Hamas.
After forging a unity government in February that ended several rounds of deadly factional Palestinian infighting, Fatah and Hamas have engaged in heated gun battles over the past three weeks, with dozens of Palestinians killed and wounded in the clashes.
Israel has raided U.S.-backed Force 17 compounds on several occasions and arrested wanted terrorists from the units. Earlier this month, the IDF arrested 18 Fatah fighters in the West Bank wanted for shooting Israeli civilians. Seventeen of those arrested were also members of the Brigades, Israeli and Palestinian security officials said.
Abbas last June appointed senior Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades leader Mahmoud Damra as commander of Force 17. Damra, who was arrested by Israel in November, was on the Jewish state’s most-wanted list of terrorists. According to Force 17 sources, Shawish was Damra’s main deputy.
According to Israeli and Palestinian security officials, U.S.-backed intelligence and security organizations associated with Fatah, including Force 17, are heavily infiltrated by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations.
A top Palestinian intelligence official admitted: “We are leading a large number of investigations and some of the results prove that such an infiltration by Hamas (of Fatah’s security and intelligence forces) exists.”
The official oversees intelligence for Fatah’s police forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. “I can say that in some cases we diagnosed a deep infiltration to high posts in some Fatah security services,” he said. “In some cases we believe there are officers that are exposed to very sensitive information.”
He acknowledged that in the past month “dozens” of members of Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees and Islamic Jihad were found operating in the Fatah forces.
The Popular Resistance Committees regularly carries out rocket and shooting attacks and took credit for a 2003 bombing in Gaza that killed three American contractors.
Muhammad Abdel El, spokesman for the Committees, said Fatah’s attempts to discover militants from his group “have not even scratched the surface of our infiltration.”