Defense Minister Ehud Barak has approved the transfer of 1,000 automatic weapons to the Palestinian Authority, defense officials said Sunday, on the eve of Barak's meeting in London with US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell, Jerusalem Post reported
The gesture was approved several weeks ago in response to a PA request but the transfer of the Kalashnikov rifles has been held up due to ballistic tests that the IDF runs on all weapons transferred to the PA. This way, the IDF will be able to know if one of the weapons is used in a terror attack.
This is the second major transfer of weapons to the Palestinians approved by Israel in the past year. Fifty BTR-70 armored vehicles, donated by Russia are currently waiting in Jordan for final checks before being transferred to the PA.
Meanwhile, defense officials said that the Palestinian Authority was having difficulty recruiting new soldiers into the battalions that it is trying to form to be trained by United States Security Coordinator Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton.
Barak, the officials said, planned to raise the issue during his meeting with Mitchell.
Four Palestinian battalions trained by Dayton have already deployed in the West Bank, in Jenin, Hebron, Jericho and Bethlehem, totaling over 2,000 soldiers. Another three battalions are supposed to be added, bringing the number up to 4,000
But Israeli officials said Sunday that while Israel supported the enlargement of the force, the PA was encountering difficulty in finding Palestinian youth interested in serving in the security forces.
"The process is moving slowly," one official said. "If there were more people willing to enlist then there would be more battalions training and deploying in the West Bank."
The official said that many Palestinians had despaired of the chances for peace and were still scarred by the second intifada, which erupted in the West Bank in 2000.
In addition, the acceptance process for these battalions is extremely selective, since the PA wants to prevent people affiliated with Hamas from infiltrating the ranks.