Israel to Allow Abbas' Security Forces to Deploy in Jenin

Officials: Force to number some 500 to 600 PA men trained at U.S.-funded course in Jordan.

Israel will let Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas deploy hundreds of his security forces in the West Bank city of Jenin after they complete U.S.-funded training in Jordan, Israeli officials said on Tuesday.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak will inform Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the decision when they meet on Wednesday, the officials said.

Israeli officials said the planned deployment in Jenin, in the northern West Bank, could include up to 500 to 600 men. Palestinian forces took up positions in the larger West Bank city of Nablus in November as part of a law-and-order campaign.

Nearly 700 members of Abbas's National Security Forces crossed into Jordan in January to begin the four-month-long, U.S.-funded training course. A separate group from Abbas's Presidential Guard has also gone to Jordan for advanced training.

Fayyad and some U.S. officials have accused Israel of undermining Palestinian Authority security efforts in Nablus by refusing to curtail army raids into the city. Both Jenin and Nablus have long been seen by Israel as bastions for anti-Israeli militant activity, although in recent months the cities have been relatively calm.

Israeli troops clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians in a Nablus refugee camp on Tuesday, but no injuries were reported.

Israel has been under increasing U.S. pressure to take steps to bolster Abbas, whose authority has been restricted to the occupied West Bank since Hamas Islamists routed his more secular Fatah forces and seized control of the Gaza Strip in June.

U.S.-sponsored peace talks, launched at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland last November with the goal of reaching a statehood agreement before U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office next January, have shown little sign of progress so far.

News of the planned deployment came after Barak on Monday said that Israel will soon begin making life easier for West Bank Palestinians, but that it would not remove checkpoints in the immediate future.

The defense minister said that Israel would facilitate the construction of several industrial zones meant to provide thousands of jobs and boost the Palestinian economy. Many of the projects, funded by foreign governments, have been held up because of Israeli security concerns.

"It is clear we need to exhaust every possible option - if it does not conflict with Israel's security needs - to help the chances of improving the atmosphere in the talks with the Palestinians," Barak told reporters.

Speaking ahead of a weekend visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Barak voiced a willingness to take "a calculated risk" by easing restrictions on Palestinians. Rice says neither Israel nor the Palestinians have done enough to fulfil their obligations under a long-stalled, U.S.-backed peace "road map".

Under the plan, Israel is required to halt all settlement activities and the Palestinians are to rein in militants.