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Saturday, November 25, 2006

General Says U.S. Building Up Abbas's Guard

General Says U.S. Building Up Abbas's Guard

The United States is building up Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's
forces but is not preparing them to confront Hamas, the U.S. security
coordinator between Israel and the Palestinians said.

In his first interview since taking up the post in March, Lt. Gen. Keith
Dayton told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that Iran is helping arm
and fund Hamas, and the United States wants to prevent "moderate forces" in
the Palestinian territories from being eliminated.

"We are involved in building up the presidential guard, instructing it,
assisting it to build itself up and giving them ideas. We are not training
the forces to confront Hamas," Dayton said in the interview published on
Nov. 24. The United States has sought to bolster Abbas since Hamas, which is
considered a "terrorist" organization by the United States, Israel and the
European Union, defeated the president's once dominant Fatah in January
elections. "Hamas is receiving money and arms from Iran and possibly Syria,
and we must make sure that the moderate forces will not be erased," Dayton

Hamas is building up its own forces and seeking control of the security
establishment, raising prospects of an eventual showdown between the rival

Abbas met Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas on Nov. 23 to
discuss the possibility of forming a unity government, although talks bogged
down earlier this week.


Dayton said most of his efforts are focused on border crossings between the
Gaza Strip and Israel and Egypt.

"We have money to train the presidential guard to work the Karni crossing
(between Gaza and Israel), and the aim is to open the crossings like last
year with 400 trucks going into Israel every day," Dayton said.

Israel left Gaza last year after 38 years of occupation, but has frequently
closed the border crossings after the abduction of a soldier on June 25 by
militants including Hamas members.

Washington envisions the guard eventually taking control of all border
crossings, including those in the West Bank. That could boost Abbas
politically as trade revenues filter through.

The United States would also support letting about 1,000 members of the Badr
Brigade, a Fatah-dominated force based in Jordan, into Palestinian
territories to reinforce Abbas's guard.

"The decision would have to be made by the governments of Jordan, Israel and
the Palestinians. But the idea is a logical one both militarily and
politically," Dayton said.

U.S. plans call for expanding the force initially to around 4,700 members,
up from 3,500 today. But Palestinian officials estimated the force could
eventually grow to 10,000 members. The U.S. program includes funds for
training the force.

Hamas has expanded its "Executive Force" to 6,000 members, which it said is
only for improving security in Gaza.
In a sign of Washington's commitment, the White House has asked Dayton to
stay in the region for another year.

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