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Originally published November 1, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 1, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Abbas takes textbook approach to security

Young cadets carry briefcases as they rush to computer labs, Hebrew classes and conflict-resolution drills. They are the vanguard of Palestinian...

The Associated Press

JERICHO, West Bank — Young cadets carry briefcases as they rush to computer labs, Hebrew classes and conflict-resolution drills. They are the vanguard of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' campaign to prevent the West Bank from falling to Hamas.

The just-opened officers' school is part of Abbas' new security plan to keep the Islamic militants on the defensive, and to reassure Israel and the U.S. that he's strong enough to carry out a peace deal.

The first 142 officers will graduate in eight months, returning to their old units with new expertise that Mideast peacemakers hope will help end the chaos reigning on Palestinian streets.

With their new skills — including Hebrew to communicate with Israeli counterparts — they are to bring a sense of professionalism to Abbas' security forces, whose poor training and conflicting loyalties contributed to the fall of Gaza to Hamas in June.

The U.S., meanwhile, has earmarked $86 million in security support for Abbas, and some of that will go to three other training centers in Jericho.

Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza raised questions about Abbas' ability to hang on to the West Bank, where Hamas also made strong gains with a popular network of schools, clinics and charities. Many Palestinians said at the time that Abbas' control does not extend beyond the quiet, middle-class town of Ramallah, his seat of government.

But four months later, Abbas' countermeasures are taking shape: He's closed dozens of Hamas charities, fired Hamas preachers, arrested hundreds of Hamas activists, including many gunmen, confiscated weapons and last weekend issued an anti-money-laundering decree meant to dry up millions of dollars in donations from abroad.

Hamas leaders have decided not to fight Abbas' security forces, because such a confrontation would be pointless and only cost the group popular support, said Sheik Maher Kharas, a Hamas leader and preacher in Nablus.

Hamas leaders in Gaza are much more belligerent, saying a Hamas takeover of the West Bank is inevitable. Still, Israeli security forces are deployed throughout the West Bank, carrying out nightly arrest raids, and their presence would make a Hamas takeover attempt extremely unlikely. In Gaza, Hamas only carried out its assault on Abbas' security installations two years after Israel's pullout from the territory.

Abbas expects his security plan to give him leverage in his dealings with Israel, especially at a U.S.-hosted Mideast conference in Annapolis, Md., later this fall.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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