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Palestinian leader wants Blackwater to take over his security detail

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 Free Headline Alerts

RAMALLAH Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas plans to replace his security detail with those trained by the United States.

PA sources said Abbas has been discussing the replacement of his personal security force with the Bush administration. They said the PA chairman wants a U.S. contractor to train his bodyguards in Western techniques and in the use of advanced equipment.

"Abu Mazen [Abbas] was very impressed by the security around President [George] Bush during his visit to Ramallah [in January 2008]," a PA source said. "Abbas has already discussed this with senior U.S. officials."

The sources said Abbas, opposed by several senior members of his Fatah movement, has contacted Blackwater USA, a key contractor in Iraq, for the training of a new bodyguard unit. They said Blackwater has quietly been examining the Presidential Guard and Force 17, the two units responsible for Abbas's protection.

"Force 17 has no loyalty to Abbas," the source said. "They are all Arafat's people and this makes Abbas uncomfortable. He does not feel they will protect him."

The sources said the introduction of Blackwater has alarmed PA security officials. They said senior officers sent to retirement have not been replaced and expressed concern that Blackwater would be responsible for all recruitment, training and equipping of presidential security.

So far, Blackwater has not signed a contract with the PA, the sources said. But they said U.S. officials responsible for enhancing PA security support the employment of Blackwater as a means to significantly bolster Palestinian capabilities.

The United States, as part of an $86 million program, has been financing the training and equipping of PA forces. In January, a battalion of PA National Security Force officers was sent for training to a U.S.-financed police center outside Amman. The center trained more than 30,000 Iraqi police officers from 2004 through 2007.

"Abbas likes the U.S. approach to VIP security, which is unobtrusive, quiet and highly professional," a Western security source said.

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