Israel OKs armoured vehicles for Palestinian forces

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JERUSALEM, Nov 21 (Reuters) Israel approved the transfer of a shipment of armoured vehicles and ammunition to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's security forces ahead of a US-led peace conference, Israeli officials said today.

The shipment of ammunition and 25 lightly armoured trucks will be used in Nablus, the restive West Bank city at the centre of a Palestinian campaign to improve security ahead of the Nov 27 conference on Palestinian statehood in Annapolis, Maryland.

''Within the framework of the Israeli gestures intended to bolster the Palestinian security forces for the prevention of terror, Israel has agreed to allow the Palestinians to receive 25 armoured vehicles for Nablus,'' an Israeli official said.

Officials said an additional 25 vehicles could be authorised if Abbas's forces make progress in Nablus, a frequent flashpoint between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.

Nablus is seen as a test case that could lead to wider Palestinian security deployments in the occupied West Bank.

The lightly armoured vehicles had initially been offered to the Palestinians by Russia several years ago but the transfer was put on hold after Hamas won elections in January 2006.

Israel has allowed earlier shipments of guns and ammunition to Abbas's forces from Arab states in coordination with the US government in an attempt to bolster the president, who lost control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas Islamists in June.

More than 300 members of Abbas's National Security forces deployed in Nablus earlier this month.

Abbas plans to send up to 300 members of his elite Presidential Guard to Nablus as a back-up force, but Washington privately warned Israel earlier this month of a lack of vehicles to support the deployment.

Washington also complained to Israel this month about the army's confiscation of nearly all of the Presidential Guard's body armour.

It is unclear if the gear was returned.

Olmert has said he will not implement peace agreements with the Palestinians until they meet their commitments under a long-stalled ''road map'' peace plan to crack down on militants.

The road map also demands a freeze on all Israeli settlement activity.

Reuters SG DB1339

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