Comrades turn their guns on each other

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The Independent Online
There is a tragic irony in the gun battles between uniformed Palestinians and uniformed Israelis of the last two days. One of the successes claimed for the Oslo peace process - and one of the most solid building blocks of a hopeful future - was the generally good and professional relationship between the Israeli Defence Force and the Palestinian "police".

Many of the soldiers and policemen shooting at each other in Gaza and the West Bank yesterday would have been patrolling together in recent weeks. In some parts of the West Bank, Israeli and Palestinian security forces share the same barracks. There must now be a huge doubt whether the concept of joint Palestinian- Israeli security - one of the keys to the entire peace process - can survive this week's violence.

The clashes will also reinforce fears on the Israeli right that the Palestinian police - a paramilitary force up to 45,000 strong - poses a threat to Israel's security.

As many as 70 per cent of the policemen were recruited from the Palestinian diaspora. Almost all the senior officers, and many of the lower ranks, previously served in the Palestinian Liberation Army, the military wing of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. In other words, before the start of the peace process, they were "terrorists" in the eyes of Israelis. Before their return, they were based in other Arab countries. Some are believed to have fought on the Iraqi side in the 1991 Gulf war.

None the less, senior Israeli and Palestinian officers say that the concept of joint patrolling and joint security has worked well. There has been increasing Israeli concern, however, at the numbers of police being recruited by the Palestinian authority. Yasser Arafat was reported to be using police jobs as a form of patronage. And as their numbers swelled the police were reported to be behaving in an increasingly autocratic way towards the Palestinian population.