28 January 2007
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's security
advisers have been amassing weapons in the Gaza Strip and
the West Bank to build up a wider range of forces than
just the presidential guard, Palestinian security sources
The sources said several thousand assault rifles and other
weapons have been set aside in storehouses for members of
Preventive Security and other services that are dominated
by Abbas's Fatah faction and are locked in an increasingly
violent power struggle with the ruling Hamas movement.
Previous arms shipments were earmarked solely for Abbas's
presidential guard with U.S. and Israeli backing. Up to
$170 million, including U.S. funds and Palestinian tax
revenues released by Israel, will provide training,
equipment and other support to the guard, according to
U.S. and Israeli officials.
Palestinian sources did not disclose the source of the
weapons or when they arrived in the Palestinian
The Palestinian security sources, who spoke on condition
of anonymity, said Abbas has yet to authorize distribution
of the assault rifles in storage to the other security
But Hamas officials say forces loyal to Abbas appeared to
be better equipped during clashes over the weekend across
the Gaza Strip, which killed at least 24 people. In most
previous flare-ups, Fatah suffered heavier losses than
Violence between the factions has increased sharply in the
last month since unity government talks broke down and
Abbas called for new elections.
Islamist Hamas beat secular Fatah in parliamentary
elections a year ago. Hamas says holding another vote
would amount to a coup.
The senior Palestinian security sources said between 3,900
and 4,900 Kalashnikovs and M-16 rifles and other weapons
were being stored in the West Bank city of Jericho and in
Gaza for Preventive Security as well as Abbas's National
Security and General Intelligence services.
Several previous shipments of guns, ammunition and other
lethal equipment were delivered to Abbas's presidential
guard from U.S. allies Egypt and Jordan with Israeli
A senior Israeli official said Israel was unaware of any
weapons going to forces beyond the presidential guard.
Of the $100 million in Palestinian tax revenues that
Israel transferred to Abbas's office earlier this month,
$85 million will go towards a U.S.-led program to bolster
the guard, said Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for Prime Minister
Washington plans to use $86 million of its own money in
coming months to provide the presidential guard with
training and non-lethal equipment, officials said.
Though its leaders are seen as loyal to Fatah, Preventive
Security is not eligible for direct U.S. assistance
because it technically falls under the jurisdiction of the
Hamas-led Interior Ministry.
Western officials said Abbas's military build-up was meant
to counter strides by Hamas in smuggling more powerful
weapons into Gaza for its fast-growing "Executive Force"
and armed wing, known as the Izz el-Din al-Qassam
The West Bank is dominated by Fatah but the group fears
Hamas is secretly training forces there. Of the new
weapons for Abbas's wider forces, 3,000 have been
earmarked for the occupied West Bank, Palestinian security
Some analysts have warned that fighting between Hamas and
Fatah could turn into a proxy war, with the United States
supporting Abbas and Iran backing Hamas.
But David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near
East Policy said the security aid was "defensive" and that
the goal was to avoid a situation in which "Hamas believes
it can swallow or even intimidate non-Hamas forces and
take over Gaza."
Western diplomats say Hamas appeared to have a military
edge in any prolonged fight with Fatah for control of
First deployed by the Hamas-led government in the narrow
coastal strip in May, Hamas says its "Executive Force" has
grown from an estimated 3,000 members to nearly 6,000.
With U.S. support in the coming months, Abbas's
presidential guard is expected to expand from 4,000 to
4,700 men. Palestinian officials say the force could
eventually grow to 10,000 members.
Preventive Security and Abbas's General Intelligence
service have about 6,000 members each. The National
Security forces have up to 40,000 members in total.
The United States and Israel have also backed a proposal
by Abbas to let about 1,000 members of the so-called Badr
Brigade, a Fatah-dominated force based in Jordan, into the
Palestinian territories, though no date has been set.