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Nov 8, 10:57 AM EST

Palestinian police chief says Hamas must give up Gaza arms


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AP Photo/Adel Hana

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- The Palestinian national police commander has cast doubt on whether a reconciliation agreement with the Hamas militant group can be carried out, warning that his forces cannot guarantee law and order unless Hamas disarms in the Gaza Strip.

With his comments, Hazem Atallah acknowledged Wednesday that the most significant sticking point in the reconciliation talks - who will control Hamas' substantial arsenal - is nowhere near resolution.

"It is impossible. How can I do security when there are all these rockets and guns? Is this possible? It doesn't work," Atallah told a gathering of foreign journalists in the West Bank.

Atallah also confirmed that security coordination with Israel in the West Bank has resumed. The Palestinians suspended most contacts last summer to protest Israeli policies at a Jerusalem holy site.

The rival Fatah and Hamas factions are in the midst of their most serious attempt at reconciling, a decade after Hamas overran the Fatah-led forces of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. The takeover left the Palestinians with two rival governments, Hamas in Gaza and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority governing autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

But after a painful decade-long Israeli-Egyptian blockade and three costly wars with Israel, Hamas' new leadership says it is ready to relinquish power. Last month, the rival factions reached a preliminary agreement.

This first phase of reconciliation included handing over to the Palestinian Authority government departments, border crossings and security services.

The Palestinian Authority has received the crossings and government departments but it has not yet exercised effective authority on the ground.

Hamas says its military wing, along with a massive arsenal of rockets, mortars and bombs, is a "red line" that is not negotiable. It also has demanded that its thousands of police be folded into Atallah's force.

Atallah laid out tough conditions for Hamas. He indicated that he would not accept any Hamas police into his own force, saying that he would only employ officers hired before the 2007 Hamas takeover. He also said that it would be unacceptable for Hamas to hold on to its weapons.

The solution, he said, is to "take them away, to dig them down." The orders, he added, "are very clear. We are talking about one authority, one law, and one gun."

The factions are to meet again in Egypt, which has been mediating, on Nov. 21, for what Atallah called "very important" talks.

Atallah said he is waiting for political leaders to give him the order to take over in Gaza. He said he would seek to duplicate arrangements used in the West Bank in Gaza. "Plans are ready, but we need orders," he said.

Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah said this week that his government cannot operate at the crossings without the presence of the security forces, a file that has not been discussed so far.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian police are one of six security forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas.

Atallah confirmed that security coordination with Israel resumed two weeks ago, months after the Palestinians cut them off to protest Israel's attempts to install security cameras at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem following the shooting of two Israeli police officers.

Atallah said working relations are generally good with Israel, and defended the arrangement as being in the Palestinians' interest because it maintains calm. But he said Israel's occupation of the West Bank, and its control over what enters the territory, greatly complicates his work.

He said, for instance, that Israel has locked up 50 motorcycles needed by his traffic police at an Israeli port for four months. He also said that Israel would not allow the Palestinians to have a DNA testing lab in its forensics department. He said neither of these things threatened Israel in any way.

"This is part of what we face," he said.

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