Friday, March 30, 2007

U.S. to vet Abbas's forces before training begins

By Adam Entous

28 March 2007

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Members of Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas's presidential guard eligible for
U.S.-funded training and equipment will be screened in
advance for militant ties, U.S. documents showed on

The Bush administration is trying to allay concerns raised
by some U.S. lawmakers and Israeli officials that a
portion of the $59.4 million program for the presidential
guard could inadvertently benefit militants from al-Aqsa
Martyrs Brigade, which is linked to Abbas's Fatah faction,
or Hamas.

The groups are considered "terrorist organizations" by the
United States and Israel.

Under the program, the United States will provide $14.5
million for "basic and advanced training" for the
presidential guard and $23 million for non-lethal

Another $2.9 million in U.S. funds will be used to upgrade
the presidential guard's training facilities, including a
sprawling new base being build in Jericho, in the occupied
West Bank.

A U.S. government document, a copy of which was obtained
by Reuters, said members of the presidential guard will
undergo a series of local background checks before
receiving any U.S.-funded training.

Their names also will be run through terrorism databases
maintained by the FBI and the State Department.

In addition, Israel will be able to screen individual
trainees before they are allowed to travel to Jordan for
U.S.-funded training.

A Western diplomat close to the U.S. program said the
screening process would create a "firewall against any
terrorists becoming part of this program."

But it was unclear whether the safeguards would satisfy
U.S. lawmakers and Israelis.

Presidential guard recruits already undergo screenings by
local commanders. Some recruits have been dropped or moved
to other branches, either because they are affiliated with
non-Fatah groups or their family members are, Palestinian
sources say.

The Israeli army has raised objections in the past to U.S.
plans to equip the presidential guard with more advanced
body armor and other battle gear.

The $59.4 million security program was scaled back from an
initial $86.4 million after Abbas agreed to form a unity
government with Hamas Islamists.

Less than two weeks old, the new government is already
showing signs of internal strain.

Factional fighting has flared up in Gaza and Abbas's
appointment of one of Hamas's long-time foes, Mohammad
Dahlan, as national security adviser, has stoked tensions.

The U.S. security program includes $3 million for Dahlan's

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