German-hosted conference seeks to strengthen Palestinian police, courts

Germany hopes donor countries will commit US$183.6 million to strengthening the Palestinian Authority's police force and court system on Tuesday, improvements that officials say are needed whether or not the Middle East peace process makes progress. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad is leading the Palestinian delegation to the one-day "Berlin conference in support of Palestinian civil security and the rule of law," being held at Germany's Foreign Ministry. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and officials from Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are to attend, along with international Mideast envoy Tony Blair and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. In all, representatives of more than 40 countries are expected. German diplomats have put the amount of money being sought at US$183.6 million over three years, of which US$56 million is intended to go to the judicial system. The bulk of the funding was expected to come from the US$7.4 billion promised to help Palestinians at a donors' conference in Paris last year Over the coming months, the European Union aims to expand its 32-strong police mission to the Palestinians to 70 training personnel in the coming months - including judges, prosecutors and other legal experts.