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Israel, US, and Egypt back Fatah's fight against Hamas

The Bush administration has spent most of its $84 million in aid to Palestinians to train an elite corps of Fatah-loyal fighters.

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Senior US officials in Washington on Wednesday promised ongoing military support for secular Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas amid his power struggle with Islamist Hamas as part of an $84 million aid package largely aimed at improving the fighting ability of an elite corps of loyalists from his Fatah Party.

Israel, too, is making overtures to Mr. Abbas, reported the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Wednesday, allowing light arms to flow to members of his Presidential Guard and saying that it would allow some of the US training of his forces to take place in the West Bank.

That policy puts the US and Israel on a highly unusual course in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: Four-square support for Fatah to contain, if not defeat, the growing power of Hamas, which won the Palestinian Authority's (PA) last election.

But whether the effort will succeed is far from certain, and some analysts say there are risks to that course, chief among them the possibility of further fueling the internal Palestinian conflict, leading to deeper despair in the occupied territories and a PA less able to make the compromises on peace with Israel than it is today.

"They want to see Hamas removed from office and see Fatah in control of everything, and [the military assistance program] should be seen as part and parcel of that approach," says Mouin Rabbani, of the International Crisis Group (ICG), reached in Amman, Jordan.

"If you want to reach a stable and durable Palestinian settlement you can't do that by empowering one faction at the expense of the other, since you very much guarantee that the other faction, which is being marginalized, will seek to undermine any peace agreement."

In the West Bank on Wednesday, Israeli troops arrested more than 30 top Hamas officials in a renewed offensive against the group after a spike in rocket fire on southern Israel. Among those apprehended was Palestinian Education Minister Nasser Shaer.

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