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Elite unit mooted for West Bank security

Israel may support the Palestinian Authority in its attempt to set up a special force to reduce casualties.

Israel may permit the Palestinian Authority to set up an elite squad for antiterrorist operations in the West Bank, reports said yesterday. The Jerusalem Post said the force would be created to reduce Palestinian casualties during operations against Hamas and other militant groups. Last month, four members of a Palestinian security team died when conducting a mission in Kalkilya against Hamas fighters, five of whom were killed.

The United States has carried out training in Jordan for four Palestinian battalions but this was primarily for police-type work for forces armed with rifles and pistols. France has already offered to train the proposed elite squad in special operations, which would also be likely to include missions against Islamic Jihad, the newspaper said. News of the planned special operations squad has come amid praise from the Israeli authorities for the work of Palestinian security forces in policing areas under their control.

An Israel Defence Forces' spokeswoman, Lt Col Avital Leibovich, hailed Palestinian security forces for "taking responsibility for what is going on in their cities". Describing this as a "new phenomenon" in a report by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, she said the Palestinians' US-trained forces were achieving results. "There's a very impressive number of arrests made by the Palestinians themselves," she said. "We do see the crime rate down overall."

Last month, Israel said Palestinian security forces were allowed to take over security operations in Kalkilya, Ramallah, Jericho and Bethlehem 24 hours a day. Speaking in a conference call sponsored by The Israel Project, Lt Col Leibovich said more than 140 West Bank roadblocks and checkpoints were removed last year by the IDF to "improve the quality of life for Palestinians" there. She warned, however, that new threats could lead to increases in security operations.

Although reports have indicated a reduction in the activities of armed fighters in the West Bank, Israel is said to fear that militants from Hizbollah could carry out attacks. dbardsley@thenational.ae

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