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Palestinian Police Deploy in West Bank Town

The Palestinian Authority has launched a new security initiative in the West Bank. The move, which coincides with a U.S. peace mission to the Middle East, has been met with Israeli skepticism. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas deployed his police forces in the West Bank town of Jenin on Saturday.

More than 500 officers in new uniforms and shiny weapons took up positions in the town Israel once dubbed the "capital of suicide bombers." The aim is to restore law and order, a key element of the internationally-backed "roadmap" peace plan.

The deployment of the police, trained under a multi-million dollar U.S. program, coincided with a new Middle East peace mission by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The Palestinians want to show tangible signs of progress toward statehood, as Washington pushes for a peace agreement by the end of the year.

Police moved into Jenin nearly a year after the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, routing the Fatah forces of President Abbas. Palestinian analyst Wadia Abu Nasser says Mr. Abbas wants to prevent a similar scenario in the West Bank.

"Palestinian Authority are doing maximum possible efforts to undermine [the] Hamas military presence, or underground cells of Hamas, all over the West Bank," he said.

Israel supports the deployment, but because of past failures, is skeptical. Israeli analyst Dan Dyker doubts that President Abbas is willing or able to crack down on militant groups.

"This a very, very weak leader by everybody's accounts," he said. "And so this is a very high risk proposition because first of all, the situation in the West Bank is highly anarchic; there is no order in the West Bank whatsoever."

Israel fears if it hands full security control of Jenin to Mr. Abbas, Palestinian suicide bombers will soon return to Israeli cities. Therefore, officials say the Israel army will continue to conduct raids in Jenin to capture militants and find bomb factories. Israel also blocked a shipment of body armor and helmets to the Palestinian police, fearing they would wind up in the hands of militants.

Palestinian officials complain that these Israeli measures undermine their ability to win the confidence of the people and restore law and order.