Tags: U.S. | Training | Palestinians | Include | Weapons | Exercises

U.S. Training of Palestinians to Include Weapons Exercises

Monday, 20 August 2007 12:00 AM

The U.S. State Department is sending security experts to the West Bank to begin "non-lethal" training of Palestinian security personnel, but a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem said the training will include weapons.

Michaela Schweitzer-Bluhm told Cybercast News Service on Monday that U.S. experts will train the Presidential Guard "with weapons." However, she said the U.S. would not provide any of the weapons.

The training follows a U.S.-Palestinian agreement earlier this month, in which the U.S. pledged to "promote law and order by strengthening and reforming the Palestinian security sector." The Presidential Guard provides security for Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and acts under his direction.

Following the violent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June, President Bush announced in July that the U.S. would provide $80 million to beef up Palestinian security services and improve Palestinian lives.

Several months earlier, in April, Congress approved $43 million in aid to be used for "non-lethal training and equipment" to bolster the Presidential Guard forces loyal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

At that time, one American diplomat here said that "non-lethal training" would include instructions on how to run a border crossing and tips on how to organize the Presidential Guard but would not include any training with weapons. The diplomat also said the U.S. would not conduct the training itself.

That's not how things are developing, however.

The State Department announced on Sunday that it would soon send trainers from its Bureau of Diplomatic Security to begin a series of "training courses" for officers of the P.A. Presidential Guard intended to "enhance the abilities" of the forces "to carry out their primary function -- VIP protection."

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is the security and law enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of State.

The training program, set to begin this fall and continue through the beginning of next year, supports the "framework agreement" signed earlier this month by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and P.A. Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, statement said.

The training is part of a U.S. effort to boost law and order for the Palestinian people and fight terrorism, the State Department said.

According to Schweitzer-Bluhm, the training will include both coursework and practical "defensive" exercises on how to protect VIPs.

She said the U.S. is not concerned that the training could eventually be used against Israel or the United States, because the "U.S. government is working with the Palestinians" and "safeguards are in place." She did not say what those safeguards are.

Israel, the U.S. and its Quartet partners -- the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- as well as some Arab states are backing Abbas and his government headed by P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as a "moderate" force among the Palestinian factions because the P.A. openly calls for a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Israel supports efforts by the international community to strengthen moderate Palestinian leaders," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said in reaction to the U.S. training announcement.

Critics of schemes to train and arm the Palestinians to fight terrorism argue that eventually the know-how and weapons will be used against Israel as has happened previously.

Most recently, thousands of automatic weapons, communications equipment, armored vehicles, hand grenades, mortars and other military equipment, which was part of a U.S.-sponsored plan to bolster Abbas' forces, reportedly fell into the hands of Hamas, when the radical Islamic group took over the Gaza Strip in June.

Some critics say that the Palestinians don't need more guns but need help in establishing good governance, democracy and freedom.

The Jerusalem Post reported on Monday that the Palestinian Authority security forces had failed to stop Hamas from creating new armed cells in the West Bank.

Unconfirmed reports also suggested that secret talks are underway to restore ties between Hamas and Fatah.

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The U.S. State Department is sending security experts to the West Bank to begin "non-lethal" training of Palestinian security personnel, but a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem said the training will include weapons. Michaela Schweitzer-Bluhm told...
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Monday, 20 August 2007 12:00 AM
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