Israel Defense Forces soldiers on Tuesday afternoon arrested a commander of Force 17, the Palestinian presidential guard in Ramallah, near Birzeit, next to Ramallah.
The commander, Mahmoud Damra, also known as Abu Awad, is one of the most senior Palestinian security officers in the territories.
Recently, sources in the Palestinian Authority have tried to remove Abu Awad from Israel's wanted list, along with commanders of other Palestinian security mechanisms who are suspected by Israel of planning terror attacks. In Ramallah, among Fatah members in particular, Damara enjoys broad support, mainly due to his active involvement in activity against Israel, despite his relative old age. He is more than 50 years old.
Damra was one of the closest security officials to Yasser Arafat, even though Arafat dismissed him from his position of Force 17 commander in Ramallah. Even after his dismissal, he remained one of the closest figures to Arafat, especially during Operation Defensive Shield in which the IDF besieged the Muqata.
A number of legends are connected to his image in the West Bank. One of them has to do with to his success in breaking through the siege of the Muqata and entering one of the storage rooms of the compound to bring rice and food to the people trapped within.
Complex account to settle
Damra was also watched by many in Ramallah as he launched an RPG missile at an IDF tank in the city, the only one to be hit during Operation Defensive Shield.
Damra stood at the head of Force 17 in Beirut even before Arafat and his men were banished to Tunis.
In recent years, since Abbas's election as president, he has returned to his position as commander of Force 17 in Ramallah. He is considered number two in the organization, and reports, which were later denied, even claimed that he had been appointed as general commander of Force 17.
Beyond his involvement in Operation Defensive Shield, Israel has a complex account to settle with the man. Damara is attributed in Israel with being involved with planning and supplying weapons for terror attacks to Fatah members, especially those in Force 17.
Israel claims that he was involved in planning these terror attacks, some of them by Arafat's command.
A senior Palestinian official, who is a close associate of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, defined Damra's arrest as a "despicable act."
The official said that "while Abu Mazen (Abbas) is exerting supreme efforts to solve the Gilad Shalit affair and advance the process, Olmert and Peretz are attempting to move things backwards."
The official said that only in recent days the Israeli defense establishment, the organization which arrested Damara, granted him an authorization to move from Ramallah to Nablus. According to the official, Damra's issues were arranged with the Israelis through US and British mediation, and the authorization was proof of that.
"It appears that one part in the defense establishment does not know what another part is doing and what was arranged opposite the Palestinians," he said.
The official added that talks were held opposite Defense Minister Amir Peretz's office to release Damra.