GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Palestinian forces desperately need better weapons and military equipment, but will maintain calm during Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip “even if we have to use clubs,” a Palestinian official said Saturday.

Israel has threatened harsh retaliatory action if Palestinian militants attack settlers or soldiers during the withdrawal, set to begin in mid-August. At the same time, it has been reluctant to allow more weapons to reach the Palestinians, fearing they could be used against Israeli targets.

Palestinian forces are ill-equipped in all major areas – including arms, ammunition, transportation and communications – but they have devised a detailed plan to maintain calm during the pullout, said Interior Ministry spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa.

“We are planning to take control of Gaza after the withdrawal to ensure a smooth and quiet and safe withdrawal, even if we have to use clubs,” he said.

“Having proper equipment will enable us to do our job in a better way, and a lack of ammunition and arms will weaken our capacity. But we are determined to do our job as much as we can,” he added.

Abu Khoussa’s comments followed an independent report last week that found Palestinian forces are poorly armed, overstaffed and corrupt. The Palestinians said the report failed to take into account recent reforms, noting they are still trying to rebuild forces severely weakened by four years of fighting with Israel.

Abu Khoussa said the Palestinians have repeatedly asked Israeli and American officials for better arms and equipment.

Israeli defense officials say they are considering the requests, but have not made any decisions.

Security forces will be on “high alert” during the withdrawal, Abu Khoussa said. “The entire security apparatus will be involved in ensuring a safe withdrawal,” he said.

The plans include sending Palestinian police into abandoned Jewish settlements to prevent looting and stationing forces outside settlements and in some open areas to prevent militants from firing rockets at Israeli targets. He said the plans have been shared with officials in Israel and Egypt.

Under the withdrawal, Israel is to uproot all 21 settlements in Gaza and four small communities in the West Bank. Roughly 9,000 settlers will have to leave their homes.

Despite numerous meetings between Israeli and Palestinian officials, almost every major issue over the future of Gaza remains undecided. They include the fate of abandoned settlers’ homes, which Israel plans to demolish, the border crossing with Egypt and the movement of Palestinian exports.

Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, a special international envoy on the Gaza withdrawal, met Saturday with Palestinian leaders in the Gaza Strip to discuss coordination efforts. Despite distrust between the sides, he believes coordination is improving, he said.

“Practically, you’re getting a better exchange of information, you’re getting technical committees working together, you’re having open discussions on the tough issues,” he said.



Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

AP-ES-07-30-05 1553EDT


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