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West Bank gets more Palestinian soldiers

October 26, 2008|The Associated Press

HEBRON, WEST BANK — Nearly 600 newly trained Palestinian troops took up positions in this tense city Saturday as part of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' attempt to expand his control in the West Bank and keep the Islamic militant group Hamas in line.

Hebron, a former Hamas stronghold, is the third Palestinian city to be reinforced with Abbas' forces. The predawn deployment signaled growing security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

An Israeli army statement said the Palestinian operation was a temporary measure to help combat Hamas and maintain public order and did not constitute a transfer of overall security responsibility from Israeli to Palestinian forces.

The troops arrived during the Jewish Sabbath, a time apparently chosen to prevent protests by hundreds of Israeli settlers who live in several heavily fortified enclaves in the city. Hebron is divided into an Israeli-controlled downtown area and a larger Palestinian-run sector.

Abbas has been trying to take over more areas of the once-unruly West Bank. His forces deployed first in Nablus and Jenin, and now in Hebron, targeting local thugs, criminals and Hamas supporters.

In June 2007, Hamas militants seized control of the Gaza Strip by force. Since then, Abbas has closed Hamas-linked organizations in the West Bank and arrested hundreds of supporters to prevent the group from taking over the territory.

On Saturday, Hamas accused Abbas of collaborating with Israel.

The deployment "comes as a reward by the occupation forces after what they have done against Hamas, their nonstop efforts to eliminate Hamas," said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the group.

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