JERUSALEM – Israel’s premier approved a shipment of Russian arms to police in the West Bank, overriding objections of his own security forces to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas going into next week’s U.S.-sponsored peace conference, Israeli officials said Wednesday.
Israel also will let farmers in the Gaza Strip export strawberries and flowers, a gesture aimed at easing the economic crunch that has worsened for the coastal territory’s 1.5 million Palestinians during the international isolation since the Hamas takeover in June.
One mission of next week’s gathering is to boost Abbas, who is in a fierce struggle with the Islamic militants of Hamas. Pro-Abbas forces lost control of Gaza after a five-day offensive by Hamas fighters, who captured large quantities of weapons and ammunition that had been supplied by Israel, the U.S. and others.
Israeli military and security officers voiced strong concerns that the West Bank weapons also could fall into Hamas’ hands, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided the arms were needed to beef up Palestinian forces in the West Bank loyal to Abbas, officials said.
The security officials said Olmert authorized the shipment of 25 Russian armored vehicles, 1,000 rifles and 2 million bullets.
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