Force 17 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The United States, moving to bolster Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, has proposed a plan to beef up the Palestinian president's elite security force and expand its authorities in the Gaza Strip, American officials said Thursday.
The $20 million plan calls for training Abbas' presidential guard and upgrading Karni Crossing the main cargo crossing between Gaza and Israel. The presidential guard would oversee the Palestinian side of the crossing, which has repeatedly been closed over the past year due to Israeli security alerts.
Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, the US security coordinator in the West Bank and Gaza, is working out the plan, which was discussed during US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's meeting with Abbas in the West Bank on Wednesday, the officials said.
While the plan is aimed at improving the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, it also is part of a broader US effort to shore up Abbas in his power struggle with the Islamic Hamas group.
The US plan would provide funding and training to Abbas' presidential guard, considered the best trained and most reliable of the security services.
The US plan would improve checking and scanning technology to allow a more efficient crossing point. The Americans hope to implement the plan by November, in time for Gaza's harvest.
The US hopes the improved presidential guards would staff Karni and restore Israeli trust in Palestinian security checks there. The guards are already deployed at Gaza's Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border, which Israel has also closed frequently, citing security concerns.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Thursday that he supported opening Karni to improve humanitarian conditions in Gaza.
"I plan to help implement the Dayton plan," Peretz said after meeting with Rice.
Rice departed Israel Thursday after a brief two-day stop aimed at shoring up Abbas and restarting peace efforts. The trip yielded only small dividends.
Israel agreed to open the Rafah crossing at regular intervals during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. Israel will also consider freeing up, for humanitarian use, some of the tax revenues it stopped transferring to the Palestinians after Hamas' election, he said.
"We are encouraged by this decision, the first toward restoration of normal operations at the (Rafah) crossing," McCormack said.
On Thursday, Hamas called on Abbas to resume the power-sharing talks, and threatened to use "available options" if the deadlock persists.
"We remind the president that we have open options to deal with the ongoing crisis, but we prefer the national option, which is in harmony with our national unity," Hamas said. The group also accused Abbas of "dictating" new conditions that have sabotaged efforts to reach a deal.
The statement did not elaborate on what options it is considering, but Hamas has several resources at its disposal, including its control of the Palestinian parliament, its legions of supporters and thousands of gunmen.