pa police 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Despite new Israeli and American criticism, the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority's new 3,000-strong police force, under the proposed command of one of Israel's most wanted terrorists, is set to formally become operational in Gaza this Sunday.
The designated head of the unit is Popular Resistance Committee leader Jamal Abu Samadana, who is not only wanted by Israel but is also linked to the bombing of a United States Embassy convoy in Gaza in October 2003 in which three Americans were killed.
"It's like hiring a mob boss as chief of police," Asi Shariv, spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said of Samadana.
"If Hamas wants to be taken seriously, it must first renounce terrorism... and looking at the people they are putting in these positions is discouraging," said Stewart Tuttle, the US Embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv.
Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas had vowed to veto the establishment of the new force, but some of its members have in fact already been sent into action. On April 24, for instance, when gunmen from a splinter group of Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades stormed the Health Ministry offices in Gaza, members of the new unit surrounded the ministry and ordered the gunmen to surrender. The resulting shootout left three Fatah men wounded and four in custody.
The vast majority of recruits to the new force come from Hamas and from the Popular Resistance Committee, which has been involved in firing rockets at Israel, sniping at Israeli army jeeps and even kidnapping Palestinian officials.
A spokesman for the PA's Hamas-run Interior Ministry, which controls the 65,000-strong Palestinian security forces, said the force was essential to bring law and order to Gaza. "We have to act now to prevent total chaos. The Police Support Unit will be our most important tool," said the spokesman, Khaled Abu Hilal.
Members of the unit are being outfitted with special uniforms and will receive the base salary of regular cops, about $400 a month. They are to be posted in five major population centers - Gaza City, Khan Yunis, Rafah, Deir el-Balah and the strip's northern farmland villages.
(A feature on the new force, 'Training for battle,' appears in The Jerusalem Post's UpFront weekend supplement.)