UK agents to help Arafat stop suicide bombers

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The Independent Online

Britain is to send intelligence and security experts to the Middle East to help the Palestinian Authority to root out hardliners plotting fresh suicide attacks in Israel.

The move was approved yesterday by Tony Blair after the bombing of a billiard hall near Tel Aviv, in which 16 people died.

The team of about 20 is expected to be drawn from the police and security services and will advise the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, on how to prevent future attacks by groups such as Hamas. Mr Blair will hold talks on the make-up of the delegation with the US and European Union.

The scheme echoes an announcement on Tuesday by President George Bush that he was sending George Tenet, the CIA director, to the region to work on building a new Palestinian security force.

Mr Blair, who condemned the bombing as an "appalling outrage", told the Commons that the priority was to forestall further attacks on Israel.

He said: "We are prepared to work with the Palestinian Authority in any way which is possible to make sure they have the proper security apparatus that they require and that that is properly enforced throughout the Palestinian Authority.

"We cannot have a situation where every time it seems as if there is some hope of political progress then that progress is immediately derailed by a terrorist attack."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman stressed last night that Britain was not considering sending troops to the region.

The security team will follow 10 former police officers and soldiers sent from Britain to supervise the detention of six Palestinians at a prison in Jericho.

Five detainees are accused of being involved in the assassination of Rehavam Ze'evi, the Israeli Tourism Minister, while the sixth is accused of being involved in the funding of suicide attacks.

Meanwhile, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, warned yesterday that any planned Middle East conference must be meticulously prepared and assured of success. A conference that fell apart would be "a disaster for the region", he said.

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