Jerusalem ( – The CIA has opened its first training course for PA security forces, designed to help them better combat terror.

About thirty PA security officers attended the opening session in PA-controlled Jericho on Monday evening, and more were expected at a second session on Tuesday, reports here said.

President Bush has called for an overhaul of the PA security forces. The U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia — the so-called quartet — are working together in a task force (along with other international players) to promote and develop reforms in the PA.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv is being tight-lipped about the training program and would not even confirm that it is taking place. (Palestinian and Israeli officials have confirmed the existence of the training program under CIA auspices.)

Instead, Embassy spokesman Paul Patin said that the U.S. is committed to helping Israel and the PA resume security cooperation, seen as a vital first step to restoring permanent calm and eventual political negotiations between the sides.

“We remain committed to helping the parties in any way we can to restore active security cooperation and advance the strategy agreed to by the parties, the quartet and the international task force on reform,” Patin said on Tuesday.

PA sources were quoted in the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday as saying that American, Jordanian and Egyptian security experts were involved in re-training the PA officers in new methods for combating terror.

Many of those involved in the program belong to the Preventive Security Service, headed by Zuheir Manasreh; while others belong to the General Intelligence, run by Tawfik Tirawi.

Manasreh attended the opening session, reports said, but Tirawi could not because he is wanted by Israel in connection with terrorist attacks.

Tirawi has reportedly been holed up in PA Chairman Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah for the last five months in order to avoid arrest or other Israeli action against him.

An Israeli official said that while the training was not part of an agreement between Israel and the PA, it is part of PA reforms under the guidance of the quartet and task force.

Israel is “aware and informed” but not directly involved, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

International experts were involved in training PA security forces when they were established as part of the first Israeli-PLO agreement in 1993.

Although there were agreed-upon restrictions regarding the number of officers and who would be allowed to participate, the new Palestinian police force quickly developed into well-armed “army” with tens of thousands more “policemen” than were originally permitted.

The Israeli official said that Israel is not concerned as long as the training is conducted in coordination with the quartet and within the framework of PA reforms.

“We want to see a… dramatic change in the sphere of [PA] security,” the official said. “That is why we are getting assistance from the Americans… We’re interested in the end result.”

The Americans have been scrutinizing the participants to make sure that those being trained have no previous direct or indirect connection with terrorist activity, he added.

CIA director George Tenet became involved in training the PA security forces under former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Tenet was reportedly one of the few, if not the only, American official that PA Chairman Yasser Arafat trusted.

Shortly after taking office, President Bush withdrew the CIA’s involvement in the Israeli-PA conflict in an attempt to lessen direct U.S. involvement in the region and force the parties to resolve the conflict between themselves.

But Tenet was sent back to the region several months later to negotiate a ceasefire agreement between Israel and the PA in June 2001. Although both sides confirmed the agreement, the understanding was never implemented.

This piece ran on the CNS wire on September 17, 2002