Israeli officials said Friday they will permit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is locked in a power struggle with the rival Hamas movement, to obtain arms to beef up his presidential guard.
Amos Gilad, a top Defense Ministry official, said Israel is not providing the weapons. Instead, they will come from a third country.
Gilad told Israel Radio the weapons are meant to allow Abbas to preserve order in the chaotic West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"I can't tell you the exact amount of weapons, but it is a limited amount intended for the purpose of securing Abbas' ability to protect himself on the backdrop of the important decisions he makes," he said, dismissing reports that the decision was made because of threats to Abbas' life by Palestinian terror groups.
"I'm not saying the chairman's life is in danger," he said. "This is a wide policy intended to allow him to cope with those who are disrupting order and turning the Palestinian Authority into a violent entity," he said.
Over the past week, 10 people have been killed in clashes in the Gaza Strip between Abbas' Fatah movement and Hamas. A top commander loyal to Abbas was among the dead, and two other security chiefs narrowly escaped assassination.
On Thursday, Abbas gave Hamas, which controls the Palestinian government, 10 days to accept the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel or he will call a referendum on the matter.
Likud MK Yuval Steinitz harshly criticized the arms deal, saying the weapons could end up in the wrong hands.
"It is a signal to the world to legitimize sending money to Hamas and it is the beginning of the end of the siege on the Hamas terror government," he told Army Radio.
Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said the reports of the arms deal were "baseless," though he said there clearly are concerns for Abbas' safety in the current environment. He said Israel should not meddle in internal Palestinian affairs.