|Palestinian police officers exercise at their barracks in Gaza City |
The Palestinian Authority is beefing up its forces in the Gaza Strip to clear the way for a smooth transition of power when Israel withdraws in a few months.
Palestinian security forces have begun recruiting 5,000 extra policemen in the Gaza Strip, to ensure a peaceful Israeli pullout from the area this summer. The new recruits will not be armed because after more than four years of conflict, Israel is restricting the flow of weapons into Gaza.
Under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's so called "disengagement" plan, 21 Gaza settlements will be dismantled beginning in mid-August, and 8,500 settlers will be evacuated. It was originally a unilateral move, but following the death of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Mr. Sharon wants to coordinate the pullout with the Palestinian Authority.
"The successful coordination of the disengagement plan will allow us to embark on a new era of trust and build our relations with the Palestinian Authority," prime minister Sharon said.
The beefing up of the Palestinian police force is a response to that appeal. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat says a smooth Israeli pullout would strengthen moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen.
"See, if Abu Mazen, if President Abbas, can stand up to the Palestinians and tell them we're going to deliver you outside of this occupation towards freedom and independence and your independent state through peaceful means, and if you use violence you will hurt your cause, I think he can deliver," Mr. Erekat said.
Israel has warned the Palestinian Authority that attacks by militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad could complicate and delay the withdrawal.