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Israel Transfers Weapons to Abbas' Security Forces


Israel has allowed the transfer of weapons to forces loyal to embattled Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Gaza Strip. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, it is part of Israel's policy of strengthening Palestinian moderates, while weakening the radicals.

Egypt has sent a large shipment of weapons through Israeli territory to strengthen the security forces of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza. Israeli security sources say Israel approved the transfer of 2,000 automatic rifles, 20,000 ammunition clips and two million bullets.

Mr. Abbas is locked in an increasingly violent power struggle with the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas that has raised fears of a Palestinian civil war. Hamas is better armed than the forces of Fatah, the rival faction led by Mr. Abbas.

Ismail Radwan, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, condemned the arms shipment.

Radwan told Israel Radio that arming one Palestinian faction at the expense of another will only increase tension between the sides.

Critics of the move in Israel say attempts to strengthen Mr. Abbas will fail, because, unlike his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, he does not have the support of all the Palestinian people.

Israeli analyst Mordechai Nissan said, "Israel has tried to play a positive role in the Palestinian affairs as best it could, but there are certain things, which are given objectively, and one is that Mahmoud Abbas himself lacks power on the ground in order to impose his will."

Nissan says that, under the Oslo Accords of 1993, Israel transferred weapons to the Palestinians, ostensibly to enable security forces to impose law and order.

"The assumptions behind this have collapsed. Weapons have not been used to stabilize life in the Palestinian-controlled areas," he said.

In fact, the guns were eventually turned against Israel. Therefore, Israel initially opposed allowing additional weapons into Gaza. But since Mr. Abbas has publicly renounced violence and endorsed peace talks, Israel wants him to prevail against Hamas, which seeks the destruction of the Jewish state.