The Palestinian Authority has put out a call to hire 5,000 new security officers to secure the Gaza Strip as Israel completes its planned evacuation this summer, an Interior Ministry spokesman said Saturday.
Although there are fears that Palestinian militants will fire on Israeli targets during and after the pullout, the new recruits won’t be armed because of Israeli restrictions on the number of guns Palestinian security forces can carry, said the spokesman, Tawfiq abu Khousa.
Abu Khousa urged Israel to let other countries supply the Palestinian Authority with additional weapons, as they have offered to do, if it wants maximum security in Gaza.
Despite the looming threat of violence, Israel and the Palestinians have failed to coordinate the withdrawal. A meeting Monday to put such plans in action ended without agreement.
But later in the week, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon urged the Palestinians to work with Israel on the pullout, and a senior Israeli military official said he expected a joint effort to begin soon.
Israeli radio stations reported Saturday that President Bush wanted his security envoy to the Mideast, Army Lt. Gen. William Ward, to work with Israel and the Palestinians on coordinating the withdrawal. Israel Army Radio said Ward, who is to visit the region soon, would also discuss Israel’s refusal to let the Palestinian Authority acquire more weapons.
The Palestinian recruits, age 18 to 22, will undergo a 45-day training course that will begin as early as next month. About 16,000 Palestinian security personnel already operate in Gaza, home to more than 1.2 million Palestinians.
In other developments Saturday, three Palestinians opened fire on an Israeli base in the northern West Bank, and soldiers returned fire, killing one and wounding the other two, the military said.
Meanwhile, the Israeli Cabinet is to vote today on releasing 400 Palestinian prisoners, a senior official said on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his position.
Sharon promised last week to seek approval of the release, which was part of an agreement he and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas concluded in February.
Israel freed 500 prisoners shortly after the leaders’ meeting and had promised to release 400 more. But that and other gestures toward the Palestinians stalled as Israel demanded that Abbas do more to curb militants.