Palestinian Authority recruiting unarmed men for Gaza

RAMALLAH (AP) — The Palestinian Authority is moving ahead on securing the coastal Gaza Strip area that Israel is to evacuate this summer, putting out a call for 5,000 new security forces, an interior ministry spokesman said Saturday.
A woman cries Saturday as she holds a picture of her son, held in an Israeli prison, during a demonstration in Hebron (AFP photo by Hazem Bader)
But although there are fears Palestinian fighters will fire on Israeli targets during and after the pullout, the new recruits won’t be armed, because of Israeli restrictions on the number of guns Palestinian security forces can carry, Tawfiq Abu Khousa said.

Abu Khousa urged Israel to let other countries supply the Palestinian Authority with additional weapons, as they have offered to do, if it wants maximum security in Gaza.

An Israeli defence ministry spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment. Israel is to begin dismantling its Gaza settlements and military facilities in mid-August.

Despite the looming threat of violence, Israel and the Palestinians have failed to coordinate the withdrawal. A high-level meeting Monday meant to put coordination plans in action ended without agreement. But later in the week, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon urged the Palestinians to work with Israel on the pullout, and a senior Israeli military official said he expects the two sides to start coordinating soon.

Israeli radio stations reported Saturday that US President George W. Bush wants his security envoy to the Mideast, Lt. Gen. William Ward, to work with Israel and the Palestinians on coordinating the withdrawal.

Israel army radio said Ward, who is due to visit the region soon, would also discuss Israel’s refusal to let the Palestinian Authority acquire more weapons.

US officials weren’t immediately available for comment.

Abu Khousa said Palestinians have been discussing the withdrawal with Ward for the past four weeks. He added that Palestinians would secure the area with or without a coordination plan.

The new recruits, aged 18 to 22, will undergo a 45-day training course that will begin as early as next month, he said. The Palestinian Authority is looking for young men because it needs recruits capable of carrying out physically demanding missions, he added.

Some 16,000 Palestinian security personnel already operate in Gaza.

Abu Khousa also said a Palestinian man killed in an explosion in the northern Gaza Strip died while handling explosives. Residents identified the man as a 21-year-old member of the group Hamas.

In other news, the Israeli Cabinet is to vote Sunday on releasing an additional 400 Palestinian prisoners, a senior government official said on condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of his position.

A ministerial committee will later compile the list of prisoners to be freed, the official said. No one directly involved in deadly attacks on Israeli targets will be released, but Israel might be more flexible than in the past and free prisoners who haven’t yet completed two-thirds of their terms, he said.

Sharon promised last week to seek approval of the release, which was part of a truce agreement he and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas concluded in Feburary.

Israel freed 500 prisoners shortly after the truce, and had promised to release 400 more. But that and other gestures towards the Palestinians stalled as Israel demanded that Abbas do more to rein in the factions.

The fate of prisoners has been a source of friction between the two sides.

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