palestinian police 298.
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Russian military experts have arrived in the Gaza Strip to help the Palestinian security forces enforce law and order, Palestinian Authority security officials disclosed on Saturday.
According to the officials, the Russian experts, who arrived last week, have begun training Palestinian security forces in various fields. The officials pointed out that this was the first time that Russian officers had arrived in PA-controlled areas. The experts later plan to also help train forces in the West Bank.
A senior Israeli diplomatic official confirmed that Russian advisers were in Gaza, saying that since Gaza is no longer under Israeli control, Jerusalem does not have a say as to which country dispatches advisers to the area.
The official said that the idea of Russia sending advisers to the PA to assist them in building up their security apparatus was raised earlier in the year when Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Jerusalem.
At that time Israel adamantly opposed Russian requests to provide the PA with armored personnel carriers or helicopters, but did agree to non-lethal aid, as well as the dispatch of a few Russian security experts to help train the PA police.
The official said that the Russians had only sent â€œa couple of advisers,â€ and it was not â€œa full force.â€ He said Israel's opposition remained to Russia sending the armored personnel carriers or helicopters.
Before its collapse, the former Soviet Union used to provide the PLO with large amounts of weapons. In addition, thousands of PLO operatives received military training and attended various military colleges in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc.
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who received his PhD in the former Soviet Union, recently appealed to the Kremlin for help in rehabilitating the Palestinian security forces. Last week Abbas met in his office in Ramallah with Alexander Kalugin, Russian special envoy to the Middle East, and discussed with him ways of boosting the Palestinian security forces.
â€œThe Russians have expressed readiness to help rebuild the Palestinian security forces,â€ said one Palestinian official. â€œThey are prepared to give us dozens of armored vehicles, ammunition and a number of helicopters.â€
After the signing of the Oslo Accords, Russia gave the Palestinians two old military helicopters that were used by PA Chairman Yasser Arafat for shuttling between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The helicopters were destroyed in an Israeli air raid a few months after the second intifada erupted in September 2000.
Another official here said representatives of the Russian Foreign Ministry had also arrived in the Palestinian territories to discuss various projects with the Palestinians in the aftermath of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. The Palestinians are hoping that Russia and other countries will help them plan and build a sea port in Gaza City.
Russia is not the only country that has a security presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Egyptian intelligence and military officers have been in the Gaza Strip for several months now in a bid to help reconstruct the Palestinian security forces. The Egyptians are also acting as mediators between the PA and Hamas in an effort to preserve the unofficial truce with Israel and prevent internecine fighting.
Meanwhile, the political crisis in the PA remains unresolved as Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei faces growing pressure to resign because of his cabinet's failure to impose law and order.
The Palestinian Legislative Council, which is scheduled to convene in Ramallah on Monday, is threatening to hold a no-confidence vote against Qurei. The council two weeks ago issued an ultimatum to Abbas to form a new cabinet or face a no-confidence motion. Sources close to Abbas said Qurei was refusing to step down or reshuffle his cabinet as demanded by a majority of legislators.
Deputy PLC Speaker Hassan Khraisheh accused Abbas and Qurei of ignoring the council's demand to replace the cabinet. â€œThey have come up with excuses that are unconvincing,â€ he said, referring to the claim that there was no time for a cabinet reshuffle ahead of next January's parliamentary elections.
â€œAll our attempts to reach a compromise on this issue have failed. Monday's session will be a decisive one,â€ he said.
Former minister Nabil Amr pointed out that the PA's performance was rapidly deteriorating, especially with regards to imposing public order, providing social services and developing the economy, as well as preparing for the parliamentary elections.
â€œThe Palestinian Authority and society have plunged into numerous crises,â€ he said. â€œThis is a nightmare that is worrying many Palestinians.â€
Amr described the PA's performance following the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip as â€œnegative.â€
Referring to the ongoing state of lawlessness and anarchy, he said: â€œGaza has witnessed the worst armed riots, including assassinations, kidnappings and raids on police stations in what resembles a mini civil war. Now we are witnessing a comical cabinet crisis, which no one knows how and when it began and whether it has ended or not.â€
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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