Last update - 03:37 27/05/2006
Defense official: Arms transfer to help Abbas take on Hamas
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service and News Agencies
Israel's transfer of a limited amount of weapons and ammunition to the Palestinian Authority's presidential guard will enable PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to "contend with Hamas," senior Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad said Friday.
The transfer, which was recommended by defense officials and approved by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, will allow Abbas to "carry out the courageous decision he made and contend with Hamas," said Gilad, who heads the Defense Ministry's political-security division.
Gilad was referring to Abbas' statement Thursday that he would hold a
national referendum on a document calling for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, should the ruling Hamas party fail to agree to the proposal within 10 days.
Gilad told Israel Radio the weapons are meant to allow Abbas to preserve order in the chaotic West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"I can't tell you the exact amount of weapons, but it is a limited amount
intended for the purpose of securing Abbas' ability to protect himself on the backdrop of the important decisions he makes," he said, dismissing reports that the decision was made because of threats to Abbas' life by Islamic militants.
"I'm not saying the chairman's life is in danger," he said. "This is a wide policy intended to allow him to cope with those who are disrupting order and turning the Palestinian Authority into a violent entity," he said.
Over the past week, 10 people have been killed in clashes in the Gaza Strip between Abbas' Fatah movement and the Islamic Hamas group. A top commander loyal to Abbas was among the dead, and two other security chiefs narrowly escaped assassination.
Olmert and Peretz decided to transfer the arms prior to the prime minister's departure for the United States earlier this week, Channel 2 reported Thursday.
Senior defense sources said Thursday that the arms will be delivered to the guard by way of a third-party state (all indications are either Egypt or Jordan) solely for the purposes of protecting Abbas.
The move is seen as a response to the continued strengthening of Islamic organizations, which have managed to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip.
"In the Gaza Strip, an industry of weapons and ammunition smuggling continues to expand, most of which is reaching the Islamic organizations," said a defense source who took part in consultations with Peretz. "We need to enable Abu Mazen [Abbas] to deal with [the groups]."
A similar proposal to transfer arms to Abbas has been on the agenda for months, however it was not given the green light by Peretz's predecessor, Shaul Mofaz.
Two weeks ago, Haaretz reported that the Islamic Jihad had formulated a plan to assassinate the PA chairman by placing a car bomb alongside the road on which Abbas' convoy is believed to frequently travel.
Islamic Jihad dismissed the report as an attempt by Israel to sow dissension among the Palestinian factions.
Abbas's security detail has been greatly expanded. The presidential guard, an elite force among the various PA security agencies whose members undergo relatively thorough training in VIP security, is exclusively in charge of protecting the chairman's offices in Ramallah and Gaza.
Likud MK Yuval Steinitz said Israel's acquiescence to the arms transfer is a "wretched" decision.
"Whoever transfers weapons to the PA gives legitimacy to the world to transfer money to the PA," Steinitz said. "What Abu Mazen is missing is not weapons, but determination and will for a war against terrorism."
Western diplomats had told Reuters earlier this month that European donors had pledged funds to boost Abbas's security forces, while his aides said Egypt and Jordan had pledged arms and ammunition to help his presidential guard protect him.