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US to support Palestinian president's forces?


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The Bush administration is holding talks with Congress about providing training and other support to security forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.


"Those consultations are ongoing," deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Friday. "I'm not sure that there is any specific end result of them."


Casey said the talks would continue next week, when Congress officially returns from a holiday adjournment.


The issue is touchy. Under U.S. law and Bush administration policy, any form of assistance to the Palestinians must sidetrack Hamas, the militia that won control of the Palestinian government nearly a year ago.


"We need to be very careful in how we do it," Casey said.


The State Department has designated Hamas as a terrorist organization and barred its participation in any peacemaking process until it accepts Israel's existence and abandons violence against the Jewish state. Abbas' security forces are obligated to stop Palestinian attacks on Israel.


The administration is trying to fan hopes for peacemaking between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who have held high-level talks and are committed to a peaceful settlement. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to go the area next month to gauge peacemaking prospects.


There have been reports that Egypt, with Israel's approval, has shipped arms to forces loyal to Abbas. Abbas denied the reports.


On possible U.S. assistance, Casey said, "My understanding is that none of this would be what is referred to as lethal assistance. ... So, it would basically be, as I understand it, in the form of training and other kinds of support."



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