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(photo credit: US Department of Defense)
As violence raged this week in the Gaza Strip between Hamas and Fatah, US officials stressed the importance of American efforts to bolster forces loyal to the latter and said further help was necessary.
"This chaotic situation is why the USSC [United States security coordinator] is focused on the legal, legitimate security forces in our attempts to reestablish law and order," said Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, the USCC working with the Palestinians, in testimony Wednesday before the House Subcommittee on the Middle East. But he added, "The legal security forces of the Palestinian president still lack what they need to achieve â€¦ law and order."
The State Department has in the past denied that America's non-lethal training of the presidential guard of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah - largely aimed at securing the Karni border crossing and protecting Abbas and other VIPs - amounted to the US taking sides in Fatah's fight with Hamas.
But at the hearing Dayton highlighted the US role in helping Fatah as it faces attacks from the Islamic radicals in Hamas.
"We are leading, through the acts of this Congress, the international effort to possibly affect this worrisome situation," he said. "The security assistance plan that you have authorized me to just begin to implement is pointing the way forward for all international and regional allies."
Congress recently allowed $59 million to be used to further Dayton's efforts at training the presidential guard of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah.
The money, however, didn't go through the normal appropriation process, as the White House took previously approved funds and simply reallocated them.
Dayton pushed the case for further US assistance to the Palestinian guard, despite months of efforts on the ground that have seemed to have little effect against the well-disciplined and well-supplied Hamas.
"We are entering a rough patch," Dayton acknowledged, "but all is not lost and our regional partners share that sentiment. However, it is critical that those who support the legitimate authority and forces represented by President Abbas receive the critical assistance they need."
Dayton is visiting the US from Israel, where he is based, and testified before the Middle East subcommittee at the behest of its chairman, Gary Ackerman (D-New York).
In response to a question about Israel's security raised by subcommittee ranking member Mike Pence (R-Indiana), Dayton assured the members, "Nothing we do to strengthen the Palestinian's security capability will be targeted against Israel â€¦ The presidential guard will not become a threat to Israel."