Palestinian police carrying weapons despite Israel's ban

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 20-Sep-04 | Author: Amos Harel| Source: Ha'aretz

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian in the West Bank city of Hebron.
Senior Palestinian security officials informed Israel Defense Forces officers recently that they have authorized some of their men to carry guns, despite an Israeli prohibition on this.

The Palestinian officials apparently fear the response of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the Fatah's military wing, more than they fear Israel's reaction to noncompliance with the ban.

About a month ago, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz agreed to the army's recommendation to enable a limited number of Palestinian policemen to carry revolvers in city centers, as part of an effort to enforce law and order there. However, the plan was suspended following strong objections from right-wing elements in Israel.

The IDF has continued to enforce the ban on bearing arms, and soldiers have been arresting Palestinians with weapons. Two policemen were arrested over the weekend for carrying Kalashnikov rifles, and several other similar incidents have occurred in recent weeks. In these cases, the policemen risked arrest and injury, because even soldiers who are not being shot at by armed Palestinian police are allowed to shoot at them. The policemen said they were willing to take the risk because without arms they would be helpless in dealing with militants.

The Palestinian security forces' desire to arm themselves in the West Bank strengthened during events during the last two months in Gaza, including the abduction of senior security officials at gunpoint by Fatah activists.

A senior military source told Haaretz that the IDF was trying to avoid clashes with Palestinian Authority officials when armed policemen are discovered. For example, the army refrains from reacting to the presence of policemen bearing weapons near the Muqata, PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's headquarters.

Dahlan bodyguards

A few weeks ago the IDF learned that 17 armed men were seen in a neighborhood in north Ramallah. It transpired that they were the bodyguards of former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan, who had come to meet his one-time political partner, former prime minister Mahmoud Abbas. The IDF did not intervene.

Last week the Al-Aqsa Brigades disrupted studies at the American University near Jenin, protesting the arrest of a senior university official by the PA's intelligence forces. They prevented thousands of students from entering the campus.

The clash was a manifestation of the power struggle that is going on between the Brigades and the PA over control of the university. The university's employees published large ads in the Palestinian media calling on Arafat to step in and solve the dispute.

Meanwhile, the IDF and Shin Bet security services are concentrating their efforts on fighting the terror networks in Hebron, Jenin and Nablus. Despite the recent arrests of more than 100 Hamas activists near Hebron, the organization's activity has not been stopped.

Due to the Hamas network's high level of compartmentalization, Shin Bet interrogators have extracted very little information from the men it has caught. The organization's leaders, among them Imad Kawasmeh, in Hebron, have not been arrested yet. The IDF suspects that the group is preparing another suicide bombing, following the double suicide attack in Be'er Sheva at the end of August.

The IDF intends to post a regular reserve brigade on the southern seam line, in an attempt to block the open areas that enabled the terrorists' passage to Be'er Sheva, in the absence of a fence.

Yesterday the Palestinians organized large demonstrations against the construction of the separation barrier in the Shekef area, west of Hebron. Four Border Police and two demonstrated were slightly injured.

So far the IDF and Shin Bet's efforts in the northern West Bank have shown some success. The head of the Al-Aqsa Brigades in Jenin, Zakaria Zubeidi, announced last week that he intends to send a few suicide bombers to Israel, to avenge the killings of a number of militants.

The IDF deployed three more brigades in the West Bank during the Rosh Hashanah holiday in an attempt to thwart any potential terror attacks. This led to the arrest of a few men suspected of being involved in planning suicide bombings in recent days. However, warnings of terror attacks are still in effect, and it appears that the army will be expanding its activity in Jenin in the near future.