The Palestinian Authority is expected to deploy a battalion of security forces to the occupied West Bank city of Al-Khalil Friday, Palestinian sources said Sunday. The move will be coordinated with Israel, and the 700 troops will handle security operations among the city’s Palestinian population.
Israeli security forces confirmed an agreement is in the works, but said the Palestinian timetable is somewhat optimistic. If the Palestinian sources are correct, the troops will move into their new quarters Friday, which falls during the intermediate days of the Sukkot holiday – when thousands of Israeli Jews are expected to visit the Israeli-occupied territory in Al-Khalil, especially the Cave of the Patriarchs.
The armed battalion is the second unit of the Palestinian National Security Forces to undergo US training in Jordan, under the supervision of the U.S. security coordinator in the region, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton. It has 650 to 700 soldiers and officers, and 150 vehicles.
Samih al-Sifi, the commander of the security forces, said the deployment does not mean the Palestinian Authority is taking security responsibility for the Palestinian part of Al-Khalil. He said Israel authorized the PA to restore order and security in the city but that there would be no wide-scale operations, only focused ones. He said the operations would begin only after Sukkot, on October 22.
Some 600 to 700 Palestinian police generally patrol Al-Khalil, and doubling that number – especially since the new troops are well-trained – can be expected to improve the PA’s hold on the city.
Four months ago, at American urging, Israel and the PA began to return full security control of the occupied West Bank city of Jenin to the PA. For the past two months, the Palestinians have been asking to expand the Jenin model to Al-Khalil. Israel and the United States held back, primarily because they fear clashes between PA forces and Israeli settlers. It appears that Israel has now decided to accede to the Palestinians’ request, albeit to a limited extent and without actually transferring security responsibility to the PA.
Israeli security officials said the PA is interested in bolstering its police presence in Al-Khalil partly because of the influence of wealthy Palestinian residents, who constitute a mainstay of support for Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and partly because the PA sees Al-Khalil as an area where Hamas is relatively strong, and it wants to erode the rival movement’s power in the city.