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Israelis supplying weapons caches to Palestinians
By Inigo Gilmore in Bethlehem
Disaffected soldiers in the Israeli army are selling their weapons to Palestinians, who are stockpiling them in anticipation of an imminent Israeli military incursion into the West Bank.
The revelation came as the Israeli Army announced it had opened bureaus in nine big cities around the world in case war broke out and it needed to call up Israelis living abroad for military service.
Military plans, recently leaked to the press, reveal the army would invade the Palestinian-controlled areas if the current ceasefire collapsed and use all its force on a month-long campaign to smash the Palestinian Authority. The operation would cost the lives of thousands of Palestinians and up to 300 Israeli soldiers, the plans estimate.
A senior member of the Fatah faction of the Palestinian President, Mr Yasser Arafat, said Israeli arms dealers delivered a cache of weapons last Wednesday. They included 50 M16 assault rifles, dozens of handguns and thousands of rounds of ammunition. He said the arms were bought in Israel and smuggled into Palestine.
"Thanks to the Israelis, it is going to be very dangerous for their soldiers if they step foot in Bethlehem."
Hundreds more weapons were expected to be delivered in the next few days, he said.
An Israeli military official said he was aware of weapons dealing but could not confirm the scale of trading.
"As in any army, there are black sheep who get involved in such criminal activities for money. Weapons can be coming through to the Palestinian areas this way, but as for numbers I cannot say.''
Indicating Israel was gearing up for the possibility of a wider conflict in the Middle East, Lieutenant-Colonel Olivier Rafowicz said the army had set up bureaus in New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Johannesburg, Mumbai and Bangkok.
"The recruitment offices shouldn't be taken as a signal that war is coming," Colonel Rafowicz said. "This conflict has been going on for a long time, and there's always a chance for deterioration, so this is part of the readiness. But we're not defining this as marking a change or something in the current situation.''
The announcement coincided with fresh US willingness to send observers to the West Bank and Gaza Strip to monitor the violence, and with a warning by world powers attending the Group of Eight summit that the bloodshed was a "grave danger".
But with Israel opposed to the deployment of third-party troops, and with violence intensifying, prospects of a renewed push for a ceasefire appear slim.
The Palestinian Authority supports plans to send troops to the area to monitor the violence.
"The Palestinian leadership favourably welcomes the decision by the G8 summit and calls for its rapid implementation and for a mechanism to assure the smooth operation of the observer mission," the authority said.
It was "necessary to send observers as soon as possible to stop the spilling of Palestinian blood ... stop Israeli colonisation and save the peace process", it said.
The Telegraph, London; Agence France-Presse; The Boston Globe
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), July 22, 2001