President Mahmoud Abbas has asked Israel for permission to bring Palestinian forces based in Jordan to the West Bank to try to shore up his control after Hamas's Gaza takeover, Israeli officials said on Tuesday.
Abbas met on Monday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, seeking support for the emergency government he appointed in the occupied West Bank after dismissing a unity cabinet led by Hamas Islamists.
"The Palestinians put in a request yesterday to transfer the Badr Brigade from Jordan to the West Bank," a senior Israeli government official told Reuters. "It is being evaluated and a decision will be made soon."
Olmert's spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, was non-commital on the Palestinian request, saying: "It's being evaluated but nothing more ... It's being checked."
Abbas's prime minister, Salam Fayyad, would neither confirm nor deny any plans to deploy Badr. He told Reuters in the West Bank: "I cannot really comment on that for the time being."
Israel wants Abbas to do more to rein in gunmen and has been considering providing his forces with additional weapons. Abbas issued a decree on Tuesday banning Palestinians in the West Bank from carrying illegal weapons or explosives, in a step toward meeting Israeli and Western demands to disarm armed groups.
It was unclear how he would implement the decision.
Also Tuesday, Abbas banned Palestinians from carrying weapons and explosives without a license, part of effort aimed at weakening Hamas Islamists in the West Bank.
Abbas, whose Fatah group dominates the PLO, had initially intended to send the Badr Brigade into the Gaza Strip to try to stop gunmen from firing makeshift rockets into Israel.
That deployment did not start and appears unlikely anytime soon with Hamas in firm control over the coastal territory.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the Badr forces, like all Palestinians, should be allowed to return to their lands -- but not deployed to fight Hamas.
"We hope they will come to protect the security of our people and not to be used by Abbas to punish Hamas," he said.
By some accounts, the Badr Brigade has less than 1,000 well-trained fighters. Others say it has up to 2,000 men. Not to be confused with a force of the same name set up by Iraqi Shi'ites in the 1980s, the brigade was formed in the 1960s as part of the PLO's Palestinian Liberation Army in exile.
Western officials have visited the main Badr training base in Jordan but a formal evaluation has not been made. Some have questioned its preparedness for action against armed groups.
Analysts say Badr is Fatah's best-trained and best-equipped fighting force, aside from Abbas's Presidential Guard. Badr is considered to be more loyal to Fatah than other forces. It also has strong ties to the Jordanian king.
The US security coordinator between Israel and the Palestinians, Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton, has yet to take a public position on a Badr deployment in the West Bank.