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Archive for Friday, June 8, 2007

Palestinians ask Israeli permission to arm forces loyal to Abbas

June 8, 2007

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— 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 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.

Israel is wary about adding to the weapons stores in the West Bank and Gaza. The Israelis are concerned new weapons might fall into the hands of Hamas.

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