Gazans also want multinational force

Abbas fears Hizbullah's growing popularity among the Palestinians.

Gaza lebaonon 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Gaza lebaonon 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinian Authority is trying to win Arab backing for the deployment of an international force along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, a senior PA official said on Monday. The official said PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who is currently on a tour of several Arab countries, has raised the idea of dispatching a multi-national force to the Gaza Strip. Abbas's initiative comes in the wake of US efforts to persuade several countries to join an armed force that would be sent to southern Lebanon. "We also need international troops to protect us against Israeli aggression," the official told The Jerusalem Post. "If the international community wants to send troops to patrol the border between Israel and Lebanon, there's no reason why a similar force should not be deployed in the Gaza Strip." According to the official, Abbas raised the proposal during his recent meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but did not receive a "clear" answer. Abbas has now decided to bring the plan before the leaders of several Arab countries with the hope that they would exert pressure on the US to comply. Abbas's tour has taken him so far to Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar - countries considered Washington's close allies in the Middle East. The idea of dispatching international troops in the Gaza Strip was first raised by former PA Chairman Yasser Arafat shortly after the beginning of the intifada in 2000. Arafat was hoping to internationalize the conflict by dragging as many countries as possible into the region. His call fell on deaf ears, especially in the Arab world, whose governments did nothing to promote the idea. Abbas is also hoping that the presence of international troops in the Gaza Strip would force the world to pay more attention to what's happening in the PA-controlled territories. The Palestinians have expressed concern that the war in Lebanon has shifted attention from events in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as most foreign journalists have traveled to the North and Lebanon. Abbas's proposal has won the support of the Hamas government, whose leaders in the Gaza Strip believe that the presence of a multinational force there would deter Israel from pursuing its military operations against Palestinian militiamen. Meanwhile, Abbas is said to be eager to resolve the case of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who is being held by Hamas and other militias in the Gaza Strip, independently from the two IDF soldiers who are in the hands of Hizbullah. Abbas fears that a joint package, whereby Hamas and Hizbullah would release the three soldiers in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, would boost the two groups' popularity and undermine his position. Another PA official said that Abbas has been trying to convince Hamas to hand over Shalit to the PA security forces in the Gaza Strip in return for Arab guarantees that Israel would release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in the near future. "Unfortunately, Abbas's efforts have failed so far," the official told the Post. "I'm not sure it would be good for Hamas and the Palestinians to coordinate with Hizbullah." Like most of the Arab governments, Abbas and the leaders of his Fatah party are worried about growing support for Hizbullah and its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, on the Palestinian street. In the past few days, thousands of Palestinians, including Fatah members, have demonstrated in support of Nasrallah, urging him to bomb Tel Aviv. In yet another disturbing sign for Abbas, dozens of private television and radio stations on the West Bank and Gaza Strip have begun broadcasting most of the programs aired on Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV. The stations also air songs praising Nasrallah and calling on Arab and Muslim armies to destroy Israel. In some Palestinian communities, posters of Nasrallah and Hizbullah's yellow flags have outnumbered those of Palestinian "martyrs" and leaders. "Nasrallah has become a important symbol for the Palestinians," said a Bethlehem-based journalist. "Some people have even begun referring to him as one of the great Muslim warriors in modern history."