Palestinian Authority Issues Weapons Ban (AP) By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH RAMALLAH, West Bank 01/27/05 9:54 AM)
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RAMALLAH, West Bank - The Palestinian leadership banned civilians on
Thursday from carrying weapons, its latest step aimed at reining in
militant violence, as the Palestinian leader said he was awaiting
Israel´s response on a proposal for a mutual cease-fire declaration.
If enforced, the ban on weapons would be a strong move against
militant groups, whose gunmen often openly brandish their automatic
weapons in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank - reflecting the
lack of control by the Palestinian security forces.
In the next step to impose order, the Palestinian security forces
were preparing to move into the volatile southern Gaza Strip to
prevent rocket and other attacks into Israel, extending their
control from the northern part of Gaza, where they deployed earlier.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas won praise from Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon and visiting U.S. envoy William Burns for his
efforts to halt violence, reflecting the new atmosphere of optimism
in the peace process.
In a test for Abbas´s ruling Fatah movement, the first municipal
elections in Gaza´s history was being held Thursday in 10 districts
in the coastal strip. The militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad
were expected to pose a stiff challenge to Fatah in the races.
Abbas has won assurances from armed groups that they will halt
attacks on Israel, provided Israel stops military operations,
including arrest raids and targeted killings of Palestinian
In meetings Wednesday, Palestinian negotiators proposed that both
sides issue formal cease-fire declaration. Israeli officials have
said in the past they are not interested in such a formal
declaration, but Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said the
Israelis promised to consider the step.
"We are very interested in the issue of the cease-fire, and the
issue of a declaration of a cease-fire, and we´ve informed the
Israelis of this, and the Israelis have to respond quickly and not
wait for another two or three weeks," Abbas said Thursday. "Such an
issue cannot bear waiting."
Sharon spokesman Asaf Shariv said Israel is examining the
Palestinian proposals. "I don´t know if a cease-fire is the right
wording," he said. "If there is quiet on the Palestinian side,
Israel will respond with quiet."
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia issued the order banning
civilians from carrying weapons in the Palestinian territories,
Erekat told The Associated Press.
Abbas and Qureia have also decided to name Nasser Yousef as the new
Palestinian interior minister, a post in charge of the security
forces, said a senior Palestinian official, speaking on condition of
Yousef was in charge of cracking down on militants in the 1990s, and
his appointment would send a clear signal that the Palestinian
leadership intends to act against militants.
In central and southern Gaza, Palestinian police were to have taken
up positions on Thursday. However, deployment was delayed because of
technical difficulties, and will begin Friday, Palestinian
Training for the deployment, three police jeeps carrying armed
police officers in full uniform drove down the main street of the
southern town of Khan Younis on Thursday. In a practice run,
officers set up a checkpoint on the main road, while a commander
instructed them on how to conduct security checks.
Optimism was running relatively high after Israeli and Palestinian
officials, and the sides looked toward the possibility of a Sharon-
Abbas summit in the next two weeks.
"There is no doubt Abu Mazen has started to work," Sharon was quoted
as saying in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, using Abbas´
nickname. "I am very satisfied with what I am hearing is happening
on the Palestinian side and I am very interested in advancing
processes with him."
Sharon said he would not stop all Israeli military operations for
the time being, but would make gestures toward the new Palestinian
leader. He did not elaborate.
"I intend to advance the chance for an opportunity for an agreement
with the Palestinians, I intend to make gestures toward Abu Mazen
and at the same time keep my eyes open and examine the situation on
their side," Sharon said.
Mohammed Dahlan, a senior Abbas adviser, said in an interview with
The Associated Press that during Wednesday´s meetings, Israel agreed
in principle to stop pursuing militants and halt the targeted
Israel also promised in the meeting to release hundreds of
prisoners - a key Palestinian demand - and that the number to be
freed is expected to be about 900, a senior official said on
condition of anonymity.
In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, Palestinians in 10 districts were
choosing among 414 candidates for 118 municipal council seats.
The Gaza vote follows a Dec. 23 election in 26 West Bank towns and
villages, and a Jan. 9 presidential race in which Abbas was chosen
to succeed Yasser Arafat, who died Nov. 11.
Hamas made a strong showing in the West Bank race - taking over many
councils from Fatah - and was also expected to do well in Gaza,
where the militant group is popular. Hamas has recently shifted its
focus toward politics and agreed to halt its attacks, at least
Burns, the U.S. envoy, held separate talks Thursday with Abbas and
Qureia. Burns is to meet Sharon later on Thursday.
After meeting Qureia, Burns said he was encouraged by the steps
taken by the Palestinians to halt violence, and Israel´s response to
"We have no illusions that such a moment of opportunity is fragile,"
Burns said. "The United States is determined to do everything it can
to help" (Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 01/27/05)
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