Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas fired the top West Bank security chief Saturday and said he would retire hundreds of senior officers, serving notice of a shakeup of security forces long demanded by the United States.
Abbas had been criticized for not moving fast enough to reform his flabby security apparatus, seen as largely ineffective in reining in Palestinian militants. The decision announced Saturday sent the strongest signal since Abbas took office in January that he is serious about cleaning house. The Palestinian Authority has 45,000 to 50,000 security officers.
"We will not allow anyone to take the law into his own hands and sabotage our situation," Abbas said, criticizing the security services for not doing their job.
The international community has long demanded that the Palestinians streamline their corruption-plagued security forces, which under the late Yasser Arafat ballooned into nearly a dozen rival branches with often overlapping authorities.
Abbas came under growing pressure at home after gunmen shot up his offices and rampaged through Ramallah on Wednesday. The gunmen were loyal to West Bank security chief Ismail Jaber, who was relieved of his command Saturday. Younis Al-Aas, the security chief in Ramallah, was also dismissed.
In a meeting with about 50 intellectuals, religious leaders and business people Saturday evening, Abbas said the gunmen had used the government compound, known as the Mukataa, for more than four years "to commit crimes and to come back to it."
"I want to distinguish between nationalists and criminals," Abbas said in remarks broadcast on Palestinian TV. "The security apparatus did not perform its duty."
Abbas also announced Saturday that he would enforce a recent law requiring security personnel to retire at age 60. At least 2,000 top and middle-level security officers, many throwbacks to the Arafat era, would be forced out.
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