Shin Bet Guards Top Palestinian Leaders in Parts of West Bank

New policy meant to avoid having armed Palestinian guards in Israeli-controlled areas.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are guarded by Israel's Shin Bet security service on some of their trips around the West Bank.

According to an agreement between Israel and the PA, a team from the Shin Bet's VIP security unit accompanies Abbas and Fayyad whenever they are in Area C, meaning that part of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control according to the Oslo accords.

On Tuesday, for instance, Fayyad visited several villages near Nablus to inaugurate new wells. Because the trip going back and forth between Area C and Area B (where Israel has security control but the PA is in charge of civilian matters), Fayyad's convoy also included an Israel Police patrol car, representatives of Israel's Civil Administration and a jeep full of Shin Bet bodyguards. These guards were responsible for Fayyad's security in Area C, while his Palestinian bodyguards - members of the PA's Presidential Guard - took over in Area B.

Israel Defense Forces sources told Haaretz that the security procedures for guarding Abbas and Fayyad on their trips through the West Bank stem from Israel's desire to avoid having armed Palestinian guards open fire in Area C should their charges come under attack.

The same procedures are in effect when foreign dignitaries visit the West Bank: The Shin Bet guards them in Area C, and the PA takes over in Areas B and A (the latter is the area under full Palestinian control). The Shin Bet also guards Abbas when he visits Israel proper.

The security Israel provides for Abbas and Fayyad is meant to prevent either of two possible scenarios. One is an assassination attempt by Palestinian extremists, such as the Hamas cell that was recently arrested for allegedly planning an attack on Abbas. The other is an assassination attempt by right-wing Israeli extremists.

Fayyad's spokesman, Jamal Zakut, declined to comment on this report. However, both Palestinian security sources and the Shin Bet confirmed it.

"The Shin Bet guards the Palestinian Authority president and the PA prime minister according to regulations, and in full, orderly coordination with all the security services," the Shin Bet said.

Following prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in 1995 by an Israeli, and then-cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi's murder in 2001 by a Palestinian, Israel significantly beefed up protection for its senior officials. That caused the Shin Bet to protest that it was stretched too thin, and was unable to provide proper security for all those in its charge.

Two committees then discussed the matter and concluded that the Shin Bet should be responsible for round-the-clock protection of only seven people defined as "symbols of the state": the prime minister, the president, the defense minister, the foreign minister, the Knesset speaker, the leader of the opposition and the president of the Supreme Court. The service also provides protection for past occupants of these offices for a limited period of time after they leave office.

All other senior officials are guarded by their offices' own security guards rather than by the Shin Bet.