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Jordan eyes troop support for Abbas

Would seek to aid Palestinian leader

AMMAN, Jordan -- Jordan's government confirmed yesterday it is considering sending Palestinian troops under its control to the Palestinian territories, where clashes between Hamas and Fatah factions threaten to explode into civil war.

Chief government spokesman Nasser Judeh told reporters the possibility of sending a Jordan-based unit of the Palestinian Liberation Army "has been raised" with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Judeh's comments followed reports that Abbas wanted to bolster his forces with Palestinian troops from Jordan -- known as the Badr Brigade -- in case of civil war. The 2,000-member brigade is part of the Palestinian Liberation Army, which was founded in 1964 as the armed wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Palestinian Liberation Army units are based in neighboring Arab countries.

Israel previously has opposed allowing Badr Brigade members to enter Palestinian areas. But last week Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told lawmakers he would consider permitting such a move, as clashes have intensified between Abbas's Fatah Party and troops loyal to the militantly anti-Israel Hamas government.

Judeh gave no details about Jordan's contacts on the issue but said the government wanted to "support the Palestinian National Authority in any way possible."

It was unclear whether talk of deploying the Badr Brigade was a move by Abbas to pressure Hamas into agreeing to a government of independent experts to replace the current Hamas administration.

Under an emerging plan, the Hamas Cabinet and prime minister would step down and be replaced by a team of experts, in hopes of ending the international aid boycott imposed when Hamas came to power in March.

Sending in the Badr Brigade might stir opposition among many Palestinians, who believe the troops are loyal to the Jordanian government. Many Palestinians fear Jordan wants to regain control over the West Bank, which the kingdom ruled until Israel seized it in the 1967 Middle East war. Jordan renounced its claim to the West Bank in 1988.

Abbas, who has good relations with Jordan, is nominally the supreme commander of all seven Palestinian security branches. However, when Hamas won the January parliamentary elections, it set up its own militia, which now numbers 5,700 troops.

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