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(photo credit: AP)
At least 160 Palestinian Authority security officers will soon be retired as part of a plan to reform the PA security forces, Palestinian officials in Ramallah said Wednesday.
The move, according to the officials, comes on the eve of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's planned visit to the region and is aimed at showing Rice that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is serious in his efforts to reform the security forces.
The plan also calls to reduce the number of the security forces from 12 to three. Previous attempts by Abbas to consolidate the security forces have failed due to fierce opposition from many top security chiefs.
Abbas, who has been under heavy pressure to replace most of the commanders of the PA security establishment, is also disappointed with the failure of these forces to impose law and order in Palestinian cities, one official told The Jerusalem Post.
Moreover, Abbas is said to be unhappy with the performance of some of his top security officers during the ongoing confrontation with Hamas. The official said Abbas was particularly enraged by the killing of senior Preventative Security Service commander Gen. Muhammad Gharib in the northern Gaza Strip last week, and by the attack on several businesses in Ramallah on Sunday night.
In neither case did PA security forces intervene, drawing sharp criticism from many Palestinians. "The attack on the home of Gen. Gharib lasted eight hours," noted Fatah legislator Issa Karake of Bethlehem.
"Where were the 50,000 Palestinian policemen and security officers, and why didn't they interfere to prevent the killing of the general? It's time to hold the commanders of the security forces accountable and to reorganize these forces."
According to another senior PA official, some of the Fatah security commanders in the Gaza Strip have been reluctant to confront Hamas for fear of retribution. "Some of the security commanders are afraid," he said. "They don't want to take any measures against Hamas for fear that they and their families would be targeted."
Asked if a senior Fatah leader would be entrusted to head the PA security forces in Gaza as part of the sweeping reforms, the official said it was premature to talk about names. However, he pointed out that the US and some EU countries have hinted that they would like to see Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan play a key security role in the confrontation with Hamas.
"They believe that only someone like Dahlan would be able to stop Hamas," he added. "But we don't believe that that this is possible under the current circumstances."
In a related development, jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti threatened to go on an open-ended hunger strike in protest against the continued fighting between Hamas and Fatah. Barghouti also called on Palestinians to declare next Sunday as a "day of national unity" and to refrain from internecine fighting.
In a letter to the leaders of all the Palestinian factions, Barghouti urged them to work toward resuming unity government talks between Fatah and Hamas and appealed to them to use their weapons only against Israel.
He said the 10,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails were "sad and bitter" because of the violence in the PA-controlled areas.
Meanwhile, Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip welcomed a decision by Abbas to deploy members of the PA Presidential Guard around Hamas-run ministries and institutions. PA Planning Minister Samir Abu Aisheh of Hamas said the decision was an indication of cooperation between the PA presidency and government in restoring law and order and ending the state of anarchy.
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