Wednesday, January 31, 2007

U.S. mulling expanded assistance to Abbas' security forces

By Reuters

"The United States is considering expanding assistance beyond Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Presidential Guard to members of the largest
force under his command, Western and Palestinian officials said.

Providing U.S. funds to train elements of Abbas's National Security Forces (NSF), in addition to the Presidential Guard, could increase U.S. involvement in the violent power struggle between Abbas's Fatah faction and the governing Hamas movement.

Officials said members of the NSF would undergo a review process to ensure they are qualified and have no ties to militant groups before undergoing the training.

The nearly 4,000-man Presidential Guard is far better armed and trained but tiny in comparison to the NSF, the closest thing the Palestinians have to an army.

Palestinian officials estimate that the NSF have as many as 40,000 members. Western diplomats involved in the matter say the number of "active" members is closer to 20,000 and that a portion of those would be eligible to participate in the U.S.-funded training.

"They need a lot of work," said a Palestinian security source who has been involved in evaluating the forces.

U.S. President George W. Bush has committed $86 million to provide training and non-lethal equipment to forces loyal to Abbas. Guns and ammunition are being supplied by key U.S. allies Jordan and Egypt, with Israeli approval, Israeli officials say.

Diplomats say Abbas's military build-up is meant to counter strides by Hamas in smuggling in more powerful weapons into Gaza for its fast-growing "Executive Force" and armed wing."

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