Palestinians set to deploy more troops

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The Independent Online
Yasser Arafat's Palestinian authority is bringing another 5,000 regular soldiers of the Palestine Liberation Army from the Arab states to police the West Bank after Israel redeploys its troops from six Arab towns in the next stage of the peace process.

The overall commander of Palestinian security forces in the autonomous areas of Gaza and Jericho, Major General Nasser Yusuf, announced in Gaza City yesterday that 2,000 PLA soldiers had already been approved by Israel, as required by the 1993 peace agreement, and would be arriving soon. Negotiations were in progress for importing a further 3,000.

General Yusuf, 52, a veteran of Fatah campaigns in Lebanon and training courses in China and Vietnam, has 16,000 soldiers in the Gaza strip and 2,000 in the Jericho enclave of the West Bank. He said that some would be moved from Gaza to the West Bank and that he would be recruiting more locally.

It is, however, far from certain that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will meet their 25 July deadline, designed to open the way to Palestinian elections. Talks in Zichron Ya'Akov, a centre of Israeli wine-making overlooking the Mediterranean in the hills south of Haifa, have been going slowly this week.

On Tuesday they were reported to have stalled over the division of West Bank water resources. Officials gathered again yesterday, but an Israeli spokes-man said they made "no significant progress on any of the outstanding issues". The deadlock extends to electricity supply.

Mr Arafat and the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, met in the Egyptian city of Alexandria yesterday under the auspices of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak. Israel Radio reported that some problems had been eased, but officials declined to give details. The radio said the three leaders would meet again in Egypt if there was no breakthrough at Zichron Ya'Akov next week.

Until then, General Yusuf is digesting the lessons of the Palestinians' first year of self-rule in Gaza and Jericho. He admitted yesterday that some of his men had violated human rights by torturing prisoners and confirmed that warders had cut the beards of three arrested leaders of Hamas, the Islamic Fundamentalist Movement.

But the police chief insisted that these were isolated infractions, rather than policy.

He claimed that the officers concerned had been reported to the Palestinian Attorney-General, but when he was asked how many had been disciplined, he replied disingenuously that that was a matter for the legal authorities, not the police. Reminded that the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, had defended Mr Arafat against Amnesty International, General Yusuf could only smile: "If you want to know why, ask Rabin."

Quizzed about the murder of two Israeli hikers on Tuesday, in a deserted valley near Jericho, the general said that the attack had taken place in an area under Israeli military supervision. But he promised that if the killers were found to have fled into the self-rule enclave, the Palestinian police would seek them out and punish them. They would not, however, turn them over to the Israelis.

As for the future of Jewish West Bank settlers, once the Israeli army withdraws, General Yusuf offered two alternatives: they could leave, or they could become Palestinian citizens.

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