Israel agreed to extensive training of members of the Presidential Guard of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in areas near Jericho, in the Jordan Valley.
The Palestinian Presidential Guard is undergoing similar training in Egypt. The training of units can reach battalion size formations, even though during their operations in the territories - in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank - the Presidential Guard is unable to operate in such formations.
The request for Israel to permit such extensive training was made through the Americans. Prior to this, Israel agreed to the transfer of thousands of rifles and ammunition to Abbas' Presidential Guard. The serial number of each weapon was registered in order to maintain at least minimal control over the weapons. On the other hand, Israel refused to approve another Presidential Guard request for the transfer of weapons of larger calibers than rifles, including heavy machine guns.
Meanwhile, in Israel, the debate still rages whether the fight for the Gaza Strip between Fatah and Hamas has been tipped in favor of the latter. Among the Israel Defense Forces, including Military Intelligence, the view is that Hamas holds the advantage in the Gaza Strip. On the basis of this view, Hamas is the leading military force in the Strip and it has the power to win the war. This is not the case in the West Bank, where Fatah has the advantage.
The Defense Ministry's assessment is more restrained. Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, who deals with Palestinian affairs, believes that even though Fatah is in retreat in the Gaza Strip, the battle is not yet over.
In the most recent clashes between Hamas and Fatah in the Strip, Presidential Guard forces managed to defend the Karni crossing - the main transfer point for food and materials to the residents of the Gaza Strip. While Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other extremist groups, such as clan-based gangs, are willing to see Karni, the main artery for Palestinian life, destroyed, Fatah is bracing itself to defend it.
American General Keith Dayton, the security coordinator between Israel and the Palestinians, proposed a plan which requested that the Palestinians establish an extensive defensive structure for the Karni crossing, a task which Fatah and members of the Presidential Guard recently completed.
Currently Fatah has a serious problem with its senior military leadership. They are missing a leading commander, a chief of staff of sorts. On the other hand, at the lower levels, a number of officers have proven themselves in recent clashes with Hamas.
The assessment of the Shin Bet differs from that of the IDF. They maintain that the battle for the Gaza Strip is still not decided. Nonetheless, the Shin Bet is also not optimistic about the long-term future. This assessment will only change if there is a major revival in Fatah, and if a majority of the Palestinian public concludes that Hamas is the source of serious damage.
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