Palestinian Authority puts limits on civilians’ carrying of weapons - Sharon hails recent steps against militants; signs by parties raise peace hopes (BALTIMORE SUN) By Peter Hermann JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 01/27/05 9:08 PM EST)
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JERUSALEM -- The Palestinian Authority issued a ban Thursday on
civilians openly carrying unlicensed weapons, while Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon offered rare high praise of recent Palestinian
actions to rein in militants -- two more significant signs of the
growing momentum for peace talks.
In a speech Thursday night in Tel Aviv, Sharon said he felt mediators
for both sides were making great strides.
"I believe that the conditions are now ripe to allow us and the
Palestinians to reach a historic breakthrough in the relations
between us," he said.
In an interview with the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth published
Thursday, Sharon praised the recent actions of Palestinian leader
Mahmoud Abbas, widely known as Abu Mazen.
"There is no doubt that Abu Mazen has begun to work," he said. "I am
very satisfied with what I hear is happening on the Palestinian side,
and I have a serious interest in advancing the process with him."
There was no word Thursday on how the Palestinian police, who are
unarmed in West Bank cities occupied by Israel´s army, would enforce
the new weapons ban -- the latest move in a gradual crackdown on
militant groups and an effort to re-establish order on lawless
streets. Au thorities were able to rein in militants in the 1990s
using the same tactic, seen as an indirect way of confronting
militias without provoking clashes.
Abbas has repeatedly said he would not arrest militants nor
confiscate their weapons, and he is trying to secure a cease-fire to
end attacks on Israelis. He has deployed armed officers in northern
Gaza to quell rocket fire on a nearby Israeli town.
Meanwhile, Abbas told reporters in Ramallah that he needs a formal
declaration from Israel on a truce to bring a halt to violence. "The
Israelis have to respond quickly," he said. "We cannot wait for a
week or two."
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority´s chief negotiator, said in an
interview Thursday night that Israeli officials told him during
discussions Wednesday that they would consider signing a truce
declaration and would have an answer next week.
"This is essential," Erekat said. "The public on both sides must
understand that this is a new day. When both leaders declare
officially on the same day and in the same communiqué that they will
stop the violence against the other, then we have a real chance."
But Israeli leaders repeated Thursday their past objections to
signing a cease-fire, saying that they want attacks to stop first,
and that it is up to Palestinian officials to determine how that is
An ´internal´ issue
"Negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the terrorist
organizations are an internal Palestinian issue," said Raanan Gissin,
a spokesman for Sharon. "What we said is that if as a result of these
arrangements it will be quiet on the Palestinians side, we will
respond to that by refraining from military activity."
Underscoring the deep-seated skepticism that still surrounds the
peace process, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom called a cease-
fire a "ticking bomb which will blow up in our faces." Speaking to
Israel Radio after talking by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, he said, "A cease-fire as such is not our goal."
Palestinian and Israeli leaders met several times Wednesday to
discuss security arrangements, the further deployment of Palestinian
police in southern Gaza and a possible summit between Sharon and
U.S. Middle East envoy William Burns met with Palestinian Prime
Minister Ahmed Qureia.
"We have no illusions that such a moment of opportunity is fragile,"
he told reporters. "The United States is doing everything it can to
Thursday, Palestinians said the Israelis were preparing to pull
troops out of four West Bank cities, and that they were planning to
release between 500 and 900 prisoners as a goodwill gesture leading
up to a summit.
But Gissin cautioned that talks are preliminary, and he accused the
Palestinians of trying to advance their standing through the media by
exaggerating accomplishments made during preliminary discussions.
"Now they are talking about a commitment on our part to release
prisoners," Gissin said. "They are trying to turn these initial
contacts into political negotiations and bypass the real steps that
are necessary to end terrorism and incitement.
"What we said was that we understand their concerns about prisoners
and this issue will be discussed in the proper time and place," he
added. "We did not reject it, but we haven´t offered it either. We
need a cessation of violence, not just a temporary, tenuous cease-
Israeli officials said Thursday night that hundreds of armed
Palestinian police had begun taking up positions in southern Gaza,
where they are to stop militant attacks on Jewish settlements, roads
and army posts.
In northern Gaza, the militant group Hamas suspended attacks during
the cease-fire talks, avoiding a confrontation with Palestinian
police. The sit uation in the south is more volatile, with active
militant groups and splinter groups. Before Palestinian police
deployed, Israeli soldiers fatally shot a Palestin ian they said was
running toward a restricted area.
Erekat said the order to ban the display of unlicensed weapons
fulfills a campaign pledge by Abbas to restore order, and is a signal
to Israel that he is serious. During the campaign last month,
militants appeared alongside Abbas at speeches and rallies with
"The decree today is a clear indication of what is going on within
our ranks," Erekat said. "I detect a new atmosphere between us and
the Israelis. We both realize that the Israelis and the Palestinians
are demanding a new chapter. And we are going to give them that."
In a further signal that he is serious, Abbas said Thursday that
officials have decided to name Nasser Yousef as the new interior
minister, putting him in charge of the security branches that are
supposed to be streamlined into three branches.
Yousef was in charge of cracking down on militants, particularly
Hamas, in the 1990s under orders from Yasser Arafat during the early
days of an interim peace accord. Mohammed Dahlan, who implemented the
orders, also is poised to hold a senior position in Abbas´ new
government. (Copyright © 2005, The Baltimore Sun 01/27/05)
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