Saturday, September 20, 2008

PA chief of staff: Gen. Dhiab al-Ali: We must be ready to use force against Hamas

Last update - 00:54 21/09/2008       
PA chief of staff: We must be ready to use force against Hamas
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent
RAMALLAH - The Palestinian Authority must be ready to use force against Hamas in Gaza "to reunify the homeland," said the head of PA forces in the West Bank, Gen. Dhiab al-Ali (Abu al-Fatah), considered the Palestinian chief of staff.
"If Gaza remains mutinous, the Palestinian Authority will have no choice but to use force against it," Ali said in a recent interview with Haaretz at his Ramallah offices.
Ali said the PA has not ruled out using force if the territory remains in Hamas' hands.
"There haven't yet been consultations with the Israelis on the issue," Ali said. "We hope we won't need that option - for us it's the last choice for unifying the homeland - but we must be prepared to implement it. If you want to transport forces [to Gaza] you need different weapons and different capabilities [than those currently available]. There must be Israeli, Jordanian and Egyptian agreement. But if circumstances permit then we must reunify the homeland."
No senior PA official close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has ever expressed such views to the media, and especially not shortly before a Fatah delegation is set to attend talks in Cairo on a possible detente with Hamas. A similar Hamas delegation is scheduled to talk with Egyptian officials early next month, and Egypt may try to hold a reconciliation summit in Cairo after the holiday of Id al-Fitr.
Ali dismissed Hamas' threats against the PA in the West Bank. "Hamas doesn't have the power to pose a real challenge to the PA in the West Bank," he said. "Israel's declarations about Hamas' capabilities are a wild exaggeration. If the Israelis were to withdraw from PA territories today we would assume responsibility everywhere. There will be problems, but where aren't there in this region? If the Israeli army withdraws from the West Bank we'd have to increase the Palestinian forces to about 15,000 soldiers."
But in a conversation whose main points were published in Yedioth Ahronoth last week by journalist Nahum Barnea, Ali spoke about the Palestinian military's fear that Hamas will try to provoke mass protests in January, when Abbas' term ostensibly ends.
Ali, 65, was appointed head of the Palestinian forces about 19 months ago. Before that he was commander of the Jenin/Tul Karm region. He has significantly improved the capabilities of the national security organization and its popular standing.
At the National Security headquarters, around 30 of Ali's most senior officers, as well as administrative employees and even clerks, gathered around a dining table for Iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast during the month of Ramadan.
"What about the girls, have they eaten yet?," the chief of staff asks. The table groans under the weight of the food: rice and lamb, of course, as well as fish, salads and a variety of other meat dishes ¬ it's a far cry from the standard IDF dining hall.
Ali's military theory holds that when the Palestinian side is quiet and there are no shooting incidents, the Israelis are more receptive to the Palestinians' woes. "As long as there is killing," he says, "there'll be no [Israeli] interest."
Ali was born in Qadas, a village near Safed, and became a refugee at the age of 4, when his family fled to Lebanon. As a youth he joined Al-'Asifa, the Fatah army, and served in a number of positions in Lebanon. He returned to the territories in 1995.
"During my term we reorganized the National Security organization. Ninety percent of the officers were replaced with younger officers," Ali says.
His officers undergo training in Jericho, under U.S. supervision and assistance headed by Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, the U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the PA. Soldiers are trained in Jericho and Jordan. Two battalions have completed the new training regimen so far. A third left for Jordan on Thursday and a fourth is scheduled to train there in the future. Ali has about 7,500 soldiers under his command.
He does not conceal his anger over Israel's responses to his requests for arms and ammunition, or the restrictions on the movement of PA forces in the West Bank.
"There is cooperation with Israel," Ali says. "We prevented dozens of terror attacks just this year."

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