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Force 17 was a commando and special operations unit of the Palestinian Fatah movement and later of the Office of the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority. It was formed in the early 1970s by Ali Hassan Salameh (Abu Hassan).
Unlike previously formed units within Fatah, the mission of Force 17 was to assassinate Israeli political figures. The importance of such a unit was made clear by the heavy losses suffered by the PLO leadership in Operation Spring of Youth (1973). Force 17 was used by Fatah to protect PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, his top lieutenants, as well as diplomats of the organization. Members accompanied Arafat during his 1974 address to the United Nations in New York City.
In 1979, their founder Salameh and his bodyguards were assassinated in Beirut. In 1991, Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad) was assassinated by a member of Sabri al-Banna's (Abu Nidal) group. This came after senior Fatah leaders had emerged relatively unscathed from the Lebanese Civil War, despite being targeted by Syria, Israel, Christian militias, and Palestinian rivals inside and outside of Fatah during that period. The relative success contributed greatly to the legend that Arafat had nine lives.
In the 1990s, the unit evolved from an organ of Fatah into an official unit of the Palestinian Authority's national security apparatus. During the Second Intifadeh, Force 17 was tasked with the acquisition of arms shipments for militant Palestinian organizations loyal to Arafat, carrying out terror attacks, and resisting incursions into Palestinian territory (Area A) by Israeli military and police. Allegedly, evidence of these actions was found during Operation Defensive Shield (June 2002), when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) besieged Arafat and Force 17 at the Mukataa in Ramallah, entered the compound, and broke into the PA's records.
Since Arafat's death, the unit's future has been called into question due to the rise of internal tensions between PA security organs, the threat to the hegemony of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and the victory of Hamas in 2005 parliamentary elections. Force 17 is staffed almost entirely by fanatical Fatah stalwarts, who would have difficulty accepting a Hamas leader should Abu Mazen be replaced in the near future.
The unit is extremely able and also considered a chess piece in Fatah's internal wars. Because of the warlord structure of PA security authorities, each one loyal to a local leader, and the similar situation within the Fatah sub-organizations Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and Tanzim that do as they please paying no heed to Fatah's official leader Abu Mazen, Force 17 is one of most stable organs within Fatah. It is said that the man who controls their loyalty is supposed to be the one who controls the movement. The unit was crucial in preventing PLO and Fatah chieftains from usurping Arafat's power for decades, and today it plays the same role for Abu Mazen.
On January 28, 2001, the IDF captured six members of Force 17, who were believed responsible for the shooting deaths of at least seven Israelis in the Ramallah area, including Binyamin Kahane and his wife Talya Kahane. Binyamin Kahane was the son of Kach leader and Rabbi Meir Kahane.