Hamas, Abbas rivalry spurs Palestinian arms race WWW.PROISRAELFOREVER.COM
- From: proisraelforever@xxxxxxx
- Date: 9 Jun 2006 15:10:41 -0700
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's forces and their Hamas rivals are
expanding their arsenals as a power struggle intensifies, increasing
the risk that a showdown could turn bloody.
New weapons and equipment can be seen on the streets of Gaza and the
West Bank, and black market gun and ammunition prices have soared
despite pledges by both sides to prevent civil war.
"These kinds of preparations have the ability to spin out of control
and could produce exactly what they're trying to prevent," said Mouin
Rabbani, senior Middle East analyst for the International Crisis Group.
Tension has grown since Abbas threatened to call a referendum on a
manifesto for statehood that implicitly recognizes Israel if the
Hamas-led government persists in rejecting it. Rival forces have
clashed sporadically in Gaza.
Western powers want to ensure that Abbas emerges victorious in any
power struggle with Hamas, which is formally committed to destroying
Israel rather than creating a state alongside it.
With U.S. encouragement, Israel has agreed to let Egypt and Jordan
supply Abbas's presidential guard with small arms and ammunition.
After meeting Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman on Thursday, Israeli
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in his first public comments that he
backed Jordan providing "equipment and training to presidential
Palestinian security forces."
Western security officials in the Gaza Strip said members of one of
Abbas's elite bodyguard units had shown them that they were now
carrying anti-tank rockets concealed in backpacks.
In the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, where Abbas has his
headquarters, the guard recently acquired four brand new U.S.-made
armored vehicles worth an estimated $100,000 each.
Spain has promised four-wheel-drive vehicles.
"It is no secret that (Abbas) is arming himself for a confrontation
with his rivals," said a veteran of Israel's Shin Bet security service,
which helped CIA-led efforts in the 1990s to bolster then-president
Yasser Arafat's forces against Hamas.
Palestinian security sources say Hamas is also buying weapons and
training fighters in the West Bank, where Fatah forces have long been
The government is under a Western financial embargo aimed at forcing
Hamas to recognize Israel and renounce violence.
But Hamas has been able to smuggle weapons and tens of millions of
dollars and euros through the Egyptian border with Gaza, Israeli
intelligence sources said.
In Gaza, where it has enough guns, Hamas has been buying up bullets,
Palestinian security sources said.
Arms dealers and an Israeli military source said black market bullets
were now selling for $1 each -- a steep price in areas where up to half
the people live on less than $2 per day.
In the West Bank, Hamas has been buying M-16 rifles. Dealers said heavy
demand and a lack of supply have sent prices soaring to as much as
$13,000 each, up from $5,400 a year ago.
At the border with Gaza, Israeli forces say militants have acquired
hundreds of anti-tank missiles.
Recruitment has also increased.
In a deal to try to calm tension in Gaza, the government agreed to pull
a new 3,000-strong militia loyal to Hamas from the streets, but the
force will remain in limited locations.
Militants from Abbas's Fatah movement, trounced by Hamas in January
elections, deployed a new force of 2,500 men in the West Bank city of
Jenin last weekend. They plan to put another 1,000-member force on the
streets of Ramallah.
"We have received information from high levels that we have to get
united, we have to organize ourselves," said a senior militant from
Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
Fatah is distributing weapons to some local offices to help protect
officials and property, sources in the group said.
One Palestinian security consultant, Yaser Dajani, saw the build-up on
both sides as merely "like flexing your muscles."
But Mustafa Barghouthi, an independent Palestinian lawmaker, was more
concerned. "It is not only delicate, it is also dangerous. People are
not only worried, they're angry. They are angry at this polarization."
(Additional reporting by Wael al-Ahmed in Jenin, Nidal al-Mughrabi in
Gaza, Wafa Amr and Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah, Dan Williams in
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