HEBRON, West Bank, (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas deployed hundreds of security officers in Hebron on Saturday as part of a Western-backed campaign to strengthen his control over the occupied West Bank.
Israel, which is trying to bolster Abbas against his Hamas rivals, approved the deployment of some 550 armed officers to Hebron, the biggest West Bank city and a frequent flashpoint between Palestinians and Jewish settlers.
“We are serious and willing to arrest anyone who disturbs law and order … starting with illegal armed groups and whoever deals with illegal arms,” said Samih al-Saifi, the Palestinian security chief for the Hebron area.
Abbas is under pressure to assert control in the West Bank so U.S.-sponsored talks with Israel can progress. Abbas’s administration complains about Israeli intervention in the deployment of its forces, and that continued Israeli raids in the West Bank undermine its credibility.
Hamas Islamists seized the Gaza Strip after routing Abbas’s forces in 2007. Abbas then sacked a Hamas-led government and appointed a new administration in the West Bank where his Fatah faction remains dominant.
An Israeli security source said the Palestinian deployment in Hebron was coordinated with the Israeli army and that the Palestinian force would not be allowed to intervene in areas where Jewish settlers live.
“They are meant to police the community and strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s ability to fight Hamas,” the security source said.
Some 650 heavily guarded Jewish settlers live in Hebron among about 30,000 Palestinians.