Palestinian Authority Ups Gaza Security

The Palestinian Authority has put out a call for 5,000 new security forces to secure the coastal Gaza Strip (search) area that Israel is to evacuate this summer, an Interior Ministry spokesman said Saturday.

But although there are fears Palestinian militants will fire on Israeli targets during and after the pullout, the new recruits won't be armed, because of Israeli restrictions on the number of guns Palestinian security forces can carry, said the spokesman, Tawfiq Abu Khousa (search).

Abu Khousa urged Israel to let other countries supply the Palestinian Authority (search) with additional weapons, as they have offered to do, if it wants maximum security in Gaza.

An Israeli Defense Ministry spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment. Israel is to begin dismantling its Gaza settlements and military facilities in mid-August.

Despite the looming threat of violence, Israel and the Palestinians have failed to coordinate the withdrawal. A meeting Monday meant to put coordination plans in action ended without agreement.

But later in the week, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) urged the Palestinians to work with Israel on the pullout, and a senior Israeli military official said that he expects the two sides to start coordinating soon.

Israeli radio stations reported Saturday that President Bush wants his security envoy to the Mideast, Army Lt. Gen. William Ward, to work with Israel and the Palestinians on coordinating the withdrawal. Israel Army Radio said Ward, who is due to visit the region soon, would also discuss Israel's refusal to let the Palestinian Authority acquire more weapons.

Abu Khousa said Palestinians have been discussing the withdrawal with Ward for the past four weeks. He added that Palestinians would secure the area with or without a coordination plan.

The recruits, aged 18 to 22, will undergo a 45-day training course that will begin as early as next month, he said. The Palestinian Authority is looking for young men because it needs recruits capable of carrying out physically demanding missions, he added.

Some 16,000 Palestinian security personnel already operate in Gaza.

Abu Khousa also said a Palestinian man killed in an explosion in the northern Gaza Strip died while handling explosives. Residents identified the man as a 21-year-old member of the militant group Hamas.

In other news, the Israeli Cabinet is to vote Sunday on releasing an additional 400 Palestinian prisoners, a senior government official said on condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of his position.

Sharon promised last week to seek approval of the release, which was part of a truce agreement he and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas concluded in February.

Israel freed 500 prisoners shortly after the truce, and had promised to release 400 more. But that and other gestures toward the Palestinians stalled as Israel demanded that Abbas do more to rein in militants.