Egypt masses troops on border

Israel considers Abbas request for PLO's Badr troops.

By JOSH BRANNON, AP
October 29, 2006 02:43
4 minute read.

 
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Egypt massed troops along its border with Gaza on Saturday, apparently to prevent arms smuggling and out of concern that the IDF could use "smart bombs" to destroy weapons tunnels along the border used by Palestinian terrorists. In response to news agency reports of the Egyptian deployment, a senior Israeli security official told The Jerusalem Post: "We are more than happy if Egypt exercises its sovereignty and prevents smuggling under the Philadelphi Route. Israel is in favor of coordination and is looking forward to Egypt taking more serious actions into illegal smuggling into Gaza." With respect to the plan to use precision-guided "smart bombs" to destroy the smuggling tunnels, he said that such a plan had not been approved or even presented as of yet to Defense Minister Amir Peretz. Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry is weighing a request by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to beef up his loyalist forces with Palestine Liberation Organization troops stationed in Jordan. The move, which would strengthen Abbas in his power struggle with Hamas, is the latest sign that rival Palestinian factions are girding up for a possible civil war. Abbas, a moderate who heads both the PLO and the Fatah Party, has asked Israel's permission to let an unspecified number of troops from the Jordan-based Badr Brigade enter PA areas, Palestinian officials said. As a PLO force, they would bolster Abbas in his showdown with the militantly anti-Israel Hamas, which runs the PA but does not belong to the PLO. In the past, Israel has refused to let Badr troops enter PA areas. But with the Hamas government preparing to reinforce its militia, and deadly Hamas-Fatah clashes intensifying in the Gaza Strip, Israeli officials have agreed to consider Abbas's request, Palestinian officials said. An Israeli security source told The Jerusalem Post, "We have the request before us and we are reviewing it." Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister's Office, said she couldn't comment on the request. But she said that in general Israel has tried to bolster the moderate forces within the Palestinian Authority. "Abu Mazen is certainly a moderate in his world," she said. Palestinian officials did not say how many Badr troops Abbas hopes to mobilize. What is most important to Abbas is that he would command their loyalty as head of the PLO, the Palestinian officials said. Confrontations between Hamas and Fatah have heated up as the two sides failed to reach agreement on forming a coalition government that would recognize Israel - a key step to bringing the PA back into the international community's good graces. The EU, US and other donors cut off hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas unseated Fatah in parliamentary elections and took power in March. But Hamas has rejected international demands that it recognize Israel and renounce violence, despite deepening hardships in the West Bank and Gaza. On Friday, Abbas raised the stakes in his political standoff with Hamas, warning he would dissolve Hamas's government within two weeks and form a cabinet of professionals if the Islamic group didn't agree by then to form a coalition, aides said. Abbas, an advocate of peacemaking elected separately last year, is the supreme commander of all 85,000 Palestinian security personnel, most hired by Fatah when it controlled the PA. But the Hamas-run Interior Ministry commands four of the seven security branches, including its own, recently formed militia, which now numbers 5,700 armed men. And last week, it announced plans to recruit an additional 1,500 forces in the West Bank, Fatah's stronghold. The threat of heightened unrest led Palestinian officials from both sides to increase police presence on Saturday. In Gaza, police in blue-and-white camouflage uniforms deployed around the parliament building, and in Ramallah, security personnel were posted outside parliament, the Prime Minister's Office and the Education Ministry. In an attempt to ease tensions, a coordinating committee for all Palestinian factions, including Fatah and Hamas, met on Friday night in Gaza, and agreed to remove all their non-uniformed gunmen from the streets. Meanwhile, Hamas-linked factions that kidnapped an IDF soldier four months ago offered conflicting assessments Saturday on whether his release was imminent. Abu Mujahed, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, said his faction has agreed to an Egyptian proposal to free Cpl. Gilad Shalit in return for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners Israel holds. "There is an Egyptian proposal that would include the release of our Palestinian prisoners and we agreed on this proposal," he said. "We expect a solution to our prisoners case in the near future." But a spokesman for Hamas's military wing said prospects for a deal had faded. "There were hopes for a deal some days ago, but there's no new advances because the Zionist enemy hasn't said anything on accepting the conditions we set forward," spokesman Abu Obeidah said. Shalit's June 25 abduction touched off an ongoing Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 200 Palestinians, most of them terrorists.

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