Saturday, June 21, 2008

EXCLUSIVE-By decree, Abbas overhauls his security forces

A Good Post Contributed by Lucia in Spain

"RAMALLAH, West Bank, June 20 (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is pushing through an overhaul of his security forces by decree, retiring old-guard commanders and giving broad law enforcement powers to a secretive special unit.

Several thousand top officers who rose through the ranks under the iconic late guerrilla leader Yasser Arafat have so far given up command with Abbas offering pre-retirement promotions and pensions equal to their full wages, according to interviews and presidential orders seen by Reuters.

The U.S.-backed overhaul, which envisages shedding about 30,000 security jobs and building a more streamlined gendarmerie as part of Washington's drive for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, has picked up pace in recent months, following Abbas's loss of the Gaza Strip to Hamas Islamists a year ago.......

Western officials note that many of the changes have been carried out with little public accountability.....

Another gave the plain-clothes Preventive Security service, which is reviled as a partisan enemy by Hamas, law enforcement powers to thwart threats to Abbas's Palestinian Authority.

With the Hamas-led parliament paralysed -- by Israel's jailing of many members and the factional war over Gaza -- Abbas and his government have issued or plan to issue dozens of other orders covering everything from the role of the police, capital markets and religious sharia courts, internal documents show.


Advocates say the security changes were meant to keep Hamas in check in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and bolster chances of a statehood deal, which Israel says will only be implemented once Palestinians crack down on militants who attack Israelis.

But some of the changes have raised concerns from constitutional experts, human rights groups and Western officials, who say abuses by forces in both the Fatah-dominated West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip are on the rise.

In a recent meeting with Abbas, the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights cited "a tendency towards militarisation in both areas, as if a state of lawlessness had shifted to a sort of a security state, a police state".......

Some Western officials have voiced particular concerns about Abbas's Preventive Security order, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters. It declared the force's own detention centres are legal, mandates that its activities remain strictly "confidential" and gave the force broad law enforcement powers......."

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