(Reuters) - U.S. and European officials have visited a base in Jordan where Fatah is training troops to reinforce Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in any showdown with Hamas, sources familiar with the visits said on Monday.
Up to 1,000 members of the Jordan-based Badr Brigade would initially be deployed in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank as part of U.S.-backed efforts to strengthen the moderate Palestinian leader's hold on power, reports Trend.
The Bush administration is seeking congressional support to provide up to $100 million to bolster Abbas's presidential guard and expand his control over strategic border crossings, reports Trend.
Sources familiar with the plan said U.S. money would not be used to provide the presidential guard with "lethal" equipment.
But Israeli officials say Washington has been instrumental in helping organize shipments of guns and ammunition to the presidential guard from Egypt and Jordan. It is unclear whether any of the U.S. money would go directly to the Badr Brigade.
At least 10 Palestinians have died in violence between forces loyal to Abbas and those of the governing Hamas movement since his call this month for new elections. Hamas, which beat Fatah in parliamentary elections in January, said Abbas's call amounted to a "coup."
The sources said Badr's deployment may not start for several months because the force needs substantial amounts of new military equipment and training. Badr would reinforce Abbas's presidential guard and other Fatah-dominated security services.
The United States recently sent a mid-level U.S. official to visit a Badr training facility in Jordan for informal discussions, a European diplomat and other sources said.
U.S. officials declined to comment on the matter.
A military official from a European country visited the base separately to talk to Badr commanders and assess their needs, the sources said.
The United States has so far not provided Badr troops with training or equipment, but has assisted with coordinating preparations for their deployment, sources said.
Israel has signaled support for Badr's deployment. It has been under U.S. and European pressure to take steps to bolster Abbas after his call for early elections.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in his first formal meeting with Abbas on Saturday, pledged $100 million in withheld tax revenues to the Palestinian president, bypassing the Hamas-led government.
Analysts say the Badr Brigade is Fatah's best-trained and best-equipped fighting force, aside from Abbas's presidential guard. Badr is considered to be more loyal to Fatah than other forces. It also has strong ties to the Jordanian king.
In addition to equipment, the Badr Brigade is seeking funds for salaries. Western diplomats and Palestinian officials said members of the presidential guard and the Badr Brigade have not received official wages since Hamas came to power in March.
The United States and its allies responded to Hamas's election victory by halting direct assistance to the Palestinian government to pressure the Islamist group to recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by interim deals.
Abbas's presidential guard currently has about 3,700 members. With aid from the United States and its allies, Abbas hopes to expand it to 4,700 members in 12 to 18 months.
Hamas says its own "Executive Force" has nearly 6,000 members and will be expanded. Hamas receives funding from Iran and other Islamist allies.