The lot of Palestine's destitute policemen is not a happy one

Sarah Helm
Monday 23 May 1994 23:02

THEY have no money for food, no fuel for their jeeps, and no hope of a salary at the end of their second week patrolling the streets of Jericho and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian police are all but destitute, according to Palestinian leaders.

Israel is accusing the police of failing to impose law and order in the vacuum left after they redeployed. In particular, says Israel, the police are failing to disarm militant factions or to make any attempt to catch the gunmen who shot dead two Israeli soldiers in Gaza on Friday.

The Palestinians say they do not even have a communications system for their security forces and so far have taken delivery of only 60 of the 200 vehicles promised by the United States. Accusations are being levelled by all sides over the financial crisis facing the Palestinian forces during this highly uncertain first phase of self-rule. Israeli government sources claim that Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, is deliberately seeking to bypass World Bank rules governing donor funds, to build up his own independent source of funding.

Donors, meanwhile, accuse the Palestinian leadership of creating the impasse by failing to set up accountable structures to oversee spending of the money. Palestinians say Israel and the donors are deliberately starving them of money to force them to do their bidding, particularly on the security front.

Freih Abu Middein, a senior Palestinian leader in Gaza, yesterday accused Israel and the donor countries of financial blackmail. 'Even if we were to take prisoners we would have no money to feed them,' he said. 'How could we search for those who killed the Israeli soldiers last week when we have no communication system?'

After the Oslo accords were signed in September, a total of dollars 24bn ( pounds 16bn) was pledged for development projects in the new autonomous areas. So far, none of this money has been released.

After the signing of the Gaza-Jericho agreement, in Cairo last month, donor countries pledged dollars 93m in emergency funds to pay for the immediate running costs of the 9,000-strong Palestinian police force. None of this money has yet hit the streets of Gaza or Jericho and no immediate explanation, other than 'bureaucratic delays' was forthcoming yesterday from representatives of the donor countries.

Last week Nabil Shaath, the chief Palestinian negotiator, arrived in Gaza to distribute dollars 300,000 to answer the most immediate need.

Fears of economic hardship not only among the police, but also the one-million- strong population of Gaza are being exacerbated by Israel's decision to close off the strip following the shooting on Friday of two Israeli soldiers by Islamic militants. The closure has prevented thousands of Gazans from reaching jobs in Israel, thereby cutting off another crucial source of income.

'We do not have a security problem, we have an economic problem,' said Nasser Yousef, the Commander of the Palestinian police force.

Even without the economic difficulties, Palestinian police commanders know they have little public support for hard- line action against Palestinian gunmen. Nevertheless, there are signs that they are taking cautious steps towards imposing some new authority on the streets.

A new checkpoint close to the main crossing with Israel was being enforced yesterday by Palestinian police checking cars leaving the strip. New measures are being drawn up to prevent the carrying of weapons openly on the street. The wearing of masks, a common practice by militant factions under the occupation, is to be banned. Efforts are also underway to start a licensing system for guns.

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