Palestinians to supply pro-Abbas forces?
JERUSALEM – Security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are seeking Israeli permission to import anti-tank missiles, grenades and other weapons in their battle against Hamas, Israeli and Palestinian security officials said Thursday.The request came as a truce ending the latest round of Palestinian infighting wobbled, with the first deadly clash since a cease-fire took hold more than two weeks ago. A Fatah activist was shot and killed in a clash with Hamas in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, and at least 19 other people were hurt in daylong battles that spread to Gaza City.In violence before nightfall in Gaza City, a Hamas backer was blindfolded, handcuffed, shot in the legs and dumped on a street, and a Fatah militant was wounded by a grenade, security officials said.Abbas’ Fatah controls most of the security forces, although the Islamic Hamas is the dominant element in their coalition government. Frustrated by its inability to wrest the various forces away from Fatah, Hamas last year fielded its own armed contingent, the Executive Force, and clashes between the two sides followed quickly. Since May 2006, at least 198 people have been killed in the infighting.On paper, Fatah is far more powerful than Hamas. Fatah’s main arm, National Security, boasts 30,000 officers, most of them in Gaza, and thousands more belong to several other Fatah-linked militias. The Hamas Executive Force has about 6,000 armed fighters.But Hamas has had the upper hand in fighting in the past year. Most of the people killed in clashes were linked to Fatah. Analysts say Hamas gunmen are better motivated and organized than Fatah.With their request to Israel to allow more arms shipments, Abbas’ forces are ostensibly gearing up for the next round of confrontation with Hamas. On the list are armored vehicles, anti-tank missiles, grenades and millions of bullets.The request is problematic for all sides, however.Hamas did not comment about the reports Thursday.Israel is wary about adding to the weapons stores in the West Bank and Gaza. The Israelis are concerned the new weapons might fall into the hands of Hamas.For years, Israel has charged that the Palestinians have many times the quantity of weapons allowed in interim peace accords, as well as heavy weapons banned by the agreements.Palestinians have replenished their supplies through home weapons industries, smuggling and theft from Israel, acquiring rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, rockets and mortars. Often these are used against Israelis, as in the almost daily rocket barrages at southern Israel from Gaza.In the past, Fatah itself has been wary of appearing to cooperate too closely with Israel, considered a common enemy by most Palestinians after more than six years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. In March, the last time Israel overcame its misgivings and approved an arms shipment for Palestinian security forces, Fatah denied its existence to the end, though an Associated Press reporter saw rifles and ammunition fall off a truck in Gaza.Israeli security officials said a detailed request was submitted in recent days, and Israel was discussing the issue with the U.S. security coordinator in the region, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton.Palestinian security officials confirmed that a request to bring in military equipment had been submitted.Officials on both sides spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss confidential military deliberations. A spokesman for Dayton had no comment.Early Thursday, a Fatah gunman was killed in a battle with Hamas in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, first fatal clash since the mid-May truce took hold. It spilled over into daylong clashes, with gunmen firing RPGs and lobbing explosives.Factions put up roadblocks dividing two main Rafah neighborhoods into factional enclaves, and Hamas and Fatah fighters took up positions on rooftops.Attacks and reprisals aimed at faction officials’ homes and kidnappings have been common tactics in Gaza’s internal strife. Before the Rafah clash, Hamas charged Fatah with kidnapping three of its men and torturing one of them, a bodyguard for Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.
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