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Thursday, August 9, 2007

Palestinians seek U.S. funds for training base in Bethlehem

RAMALLAH The Palestinian Authority wants to establish a security training base outside Israel.

Palestinian sources said the PA has submitted a request for the United States to finance and construct a training base for Palestinian security forces in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, located south of Jerusalem. The sources said the PA request envisioned the base as being large enough to accommodate training by police, the National Security Forces and Presidential Guard.

"This would be the most modern of PA security facilities in the West Bank," a PA source said.

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[On Wednesday, the PA acknowledged that it paid the salaries of 3,500 members of the Executive Force in the Gaza Strip despite a ban on helping Hamas. Officials said the salaries to Hamas were paid from Western aid due to a computer error, Middle East Newsline reported.]

The PA already operates a modern security training facility in the West Bank town of Jericho. But the sources said the facility has been underused amid the PA failure to reorganize and reform its 80,000-member security force.

"The Americans want to first develop the Jericho facility before building additional training bases," the source said. "The PA regards a base in Bethlehem as an important part of its strategy to impose its rule over the West Bank."

Over the last month, the PA has acquired assault weapons, munitions and computers financed by the United States. The U.S. assistance came in wake of the Hamas capture of all the weapons, vehicles and communications supplied to forces loyal to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in the Gaza Strip in 2007.

The proposal was part of a PA plan to enhance security capabilities in the West Bank in wake of the establishment of the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. The plan also called for the PA procurement of nearly 100 armored vehicles for NSF and PG.

The latest PA security request also includes jeeps, body armor, grenades and combat equipment. The sources said the equipment could be purchased with a U.S. allocation of $80 million for PA security reform.

The proposed PA training base would require approval by Israel, the sources said. In 2000, southern Jerusalem came under nightly machine gun fire by PA security forces and Fatah operatives based in Bethlehem.

The U.S. project to reform the PA security forces has been led by Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton. Dayton has recommended the creation of an NSF battalion that would specialize in riot control.

The Palestinian sources said the United States has failed to meet its deadlines in training PA security forces. They said the United States has been unable to recruit a sufficient number of instructors in the West Bank. The U.S. embassy, citing security threats, has banned private and reduced official travel to the West Bank.

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