Source AP ©

Israel holds up shipment of armored vehicles to Palestine

The shipment of 25 Russian armored vehicles to Palestinian police was delayed, as the Palestinians want to equip them with machine guns, Israeli and Palestinian authorities reported Monday.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert approved the shipment two weeks ago over the objections of his own security forces, in an effort to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of last week's U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference.

But the Israeli security officials said Monday that the shipment has been delayed because the Palestinians want to equip the vehicles with guns. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki confirmed that Israel was holding up the deal.

"Israel says it will not allow these carriers to come in because they have been designed to be used with machine guns on top," Malki said. "Now we are trying to fix this issue with Israel."

Israeli Cabinet Minister Zeev Boim said Israel did not yet trust the strength of Palestinian forces, fearing that their equipment and weapons could fall into the hands of Islamic Hamas militants.

"We do need to strengthen Abbas' security forces," Boim said. "But it's way too early for them to have APCs with mounts for heavy weapons."

The Israeli military on Monday disclosed that two suspects arrested in the shooting death of a Jewish West bank settler last month were members of the pro-Abbas Palestinian police.

Russia had proposed shipping the armored vehicles to Palestinian security forces two years ago, but delivery was stalled because of Israeli opposition.

Hamas wrested control of Gaza from Abbas forces in June. The takeover allowed Hamas fighters to capture large quantities of weapons and ammunition that had been supplied by Israel, the U.S. and others.

Abbas remains in control of the West Bank, but Israel has expressed concerns about the ability of his forces to maintain law and order there.

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