JERICHO, West Bank (AP) – Palestinian police officers in riot gear trained under the desert sun Tuesday as part of a European Union-sponsored public order course begun after a deadly clash between police and demonstrators last fall.
Palestinian instructors barked commands at a squad of men who stamped their boots and rapped their clubs on their shields as they advanced on an imaginary demonstration – a tactic designed to intimidate without bloodshed.
Next week, the 64 graduates of the 12-day course will report for duty in their hometown of Jenin, an unruly hotbed of militants and heavily armed gangs.
The focus of the training in Jericho is to prepare them to handle mass protests without firearms, said a French police captain, Rudolphe Mauget. “In terms of crowd control capacity, a weapon is the worst possible tool you can use,” he said.
In November, Palestinian police confronting banned protests against a Mideast peace summit being held in the United States shot one man dead in the West Bank city of Hebron and wounded 26 others.
The head of the EU police mission to the Palestinians, Colin Smith of Britain, said the training in crowd control procedures was requested by Palestinian authorities. They recognized intense media scrutiny of protests makes it even more important for police to show discipline, he said.
The EU mission was set up in 2006 to reform the Palestinian police force. It has held courses in policing and criminal justice and trained the Palestinian instructors who now run the public order program.
By July, all 878 members of the West Bank public order unit are expected to have completed training at Jericho.
The course does not benefit Gaza, where the Islamic movement Hamas seized control last June and is boycotted by the West. Gaza police loyal to the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are on indefinite leave, and Hamas fighters patrol the streets.
By STEVE WEIZMAN
May 27, 08