Alastair Macdonald
June 24, 2008 - 4:30pm

For Palestinian police chief Radhi Assida, an international fundraising conference in Berlin on Tuesday may provide welcome cash for kit and training.

For the aid to help bring peace and security to the Middle East, however, the colonel wants the governments attending to focus on something more -- pressuring Israel to trust his force more and to end what he says are policies that limit its effectiveness and undermine its credibility among Palestinians.

"All this aid will be pointless unless the Israelis ease the pressure on us," said Assida, who served for decades under arms at the side of Yasser Arafat and who now runs the new National Security Force police service in the West Bank city of Jenin.

Long a bastion of guerrilla forces hostile to Israel, Jenin has been held up as a model by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of a Western-backed plan to institute non-partisan security forces capable of enforcing a peace deal with Israel by cracking down on militants bent on attacking the Jewish state.

Assida, in an interview at his recently rebuilt office beside the ruins left by Israeli attacks on Jenin's government compound several years ago, complained of Israeli restrictions on where his force could operate, what equipment it could use and its plans to build barracks and a prison.

"Foreigners have donated vehicles to the police," he said. "But what are we supposed to do with these vehicles when we can't go the villages where the criminals are?"

Without being able to build a prison, he said, he could hardly be expected to detain suspects -- and handing them over to Israel undermined his force's standing with Palestinians.

Assida said that when he told Israeli commanders that he had already been successful in cracking down on militants, "they told me: 'How can that be? You haven't killed any yet'."

"We hope the international community will press Israel to recognise our achievements," he said, adding he believed that in the past year his 220-strong force had largely put an end to Islamist militant groups in the area and had neutralised secular militants by drafting them into new security forces.


Western officials involved in organising the Berlin meeting have praised the efforts of the Palestinian forces in imposing security and have voiced some frustration at what they see as Israel's failure to cooperate. Israeli reluctance to agree to heavier weapons for Palestinians is a common complaint.

Israeli officials, however, note that Fatah forces loyal to Arafat turned on Israel during an uprising that began in 2000 and say they need to be cautious in allowing for the formation of new forces in the Palestinian territories.

Germany aims to raise more than $180 million to strengthen Palestinian police and legal institutions at the Berlin donors' conference, to be attended by delegates from about 50 countries.

Among the plans put forward by President Mahmoud Abbas's government are projects to build courts, prisons and police stations, as well as further police training.

The meeting forms part of a Palestinian-Israeli peace process launched last year after the rout of Abbas's secular Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip by Hamas Islamists.

Assida said his forces had succeeded in "reforming" the bulk of the Islamist militants they arrested, saying he viewed them as people who had "lost their way".

Human Rights Watch, in a report issued on Monday, said some Palestinian forces were using torture and other abuses to suppress Hamas activity in the West Bank and urged the international donors to consider such problems in Berlin. (Additional reporting by Wael al-Ahmed; editing by Andrew Dobbie)


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