- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 28, 2006

JERUSALEM — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hopes to beef up his loyalist forces with Palestine Liberation Organization troops from Jordan, Palestinian officials said, as rival Palestinian factions bolstered their ranks in anticipation of a feared civil war.

Israel has objected in the past to letting members of the Jordan-based Badr Brigade enter Palestinian areas.

But with clashes intensifying between Mr. Abbas’ Fatah Party and forces loyal to the militantly anti-Israel Hamas government, Israeli officials said they would consider allowing them in, according to the Palestinian officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because no decision had been made.

Israeli authorities were not immediately available for comment yesterday.

Palestinian officials did not say how many Badr forces Mr. Abbas hopes to mobilize. What is most important to him is that he would command their loyalty as head of the PLO, the officials said.

Mr. Abbas, elected separately last year, is nominally the supreme commander of all seven Palestinian security branches, and most security personnel were hired by Fatah, which controlled the Palestinian Authority for more than a decade.

But after Hamas swept Fatah from office in January elections, it set up its own militia, which now numbers 5,700 armed men, and announced plans to recruit an additional 1,500 in the West Bank, Fatah’s stronghold.

The rival security forces have clashed frequently in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks as political tensions between the two sides grow. The violence has left more than a dozen dead and stoked fears of a bloody showdown.

The European Union, U.S. and other donors cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas took power in March. Despite growing hardship in the Palestinian areas, Hamas has rejected international calls to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Mr. Abbas plans to dissolve the Hamas-led government within two weeks if the Islamic militant group does not agree to a coalition with Fatah, Palestinian officials said Friday.

Meanwhile, Palestinian factions that kidnapped an Israeli soldier four months ago offered conflicting assessments yesterday on whether a prisoner swap was imminent.

Abu Mujahed, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, said his faction has agreed to an Egyptian proposal to release Cpl. Gilad Shalit in return for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

But a spokesman for the military wing of the Palestinians’ ruling Hamas party said prospects for an imminent deal have faded.

Israeli officials have said they were unaware of any progress to win Cpl. Shalit’s release.

Cpl. Shalit was captured on June 25 in a cross-border raid and is thought to be held in Gaza.

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