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Palestinian security gets a feminine touch

By adding females to the police force, Palestinian officials hope to improve the image of their security forces.

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Or, in the words of Capt. Mohammed Il-Jabari, who runs such raids several times a week: "As soon as we walk in, the women are in charge."

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By using female police officers on housing searches, "we have preserved our customs and morals," says General Safy. "Every time we arrest, we take some policewomen with us."

Yet only so much can be done to camouflage the ultimate message. This is a surprise raid, and everyone – and everywhere – in the house is about to be searched.

"The security campaign has given our troops an opportunity to practice their training.

The most important change is the way our officers are respecting human rights," says Safy. "Today, when we take our men on house searches, we see how well behaved they are."

To be sure, not everybody agrees with this rosy review of the security campaign. A random survey of people in the street suggest that while some people think the law-and-order surge is a good thing, others are skeptical and say detainees are regularly mistreated and beaten.

"They haven't been treating those they arrest in the right way," says Rana Nasser, a university student here. "You hear stories of people who come out of their arrest and they hardly look like the same human being."

But Sali Radwan, her friend, adds that the crackdown is meant to keep the West Bank in the hands of Fatah, the secular and pro-Western offshoot of the Palestinian Liberation Organization that publicly entered into a peace process with Israel in 1993. "Their most important objective is to halt any situation here that would be similar to what happened in Gaza," Ms. Radwan says.

Meanwhile, Hamas boycotted an Egyptian-sponsored "national reconciliation" conference in Cairo earlier this month, saying that the PA's large-scale security crackdown was simply a campaign against Hamas supporters in the West Bank.

At a downtown luncheonette, most of the men are dismissive of the campaign and its supposed success.

That the troops are newly trained and especially sensitive to not trampling through a man's castle – his home – are lost on them. "It's unclear to me what the security campaign is," says Mohammed Salameh, who has a grocery store.

"Does it let me go to my shop in a safer way? There are still lots of thieves and criminals around. I see that they're just after men from one faction," he says, indicating Hamas. "And I saw them behaving like the Israelis do – breaking down the doors of houses with their feet."

Safy is perturbed at such criticism and says the reports of torture are just Hamas-generated rumors aimed at weakening the security campaign. "When it come to Hamas," he acknowledges, exasperated, "I'm intolerant."