Palestinian Authority Issues Weapons Ban (AP) By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH RAMALLAH 01/28/05 1:38 AM)
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RAMALLAH, West Bank - The new Palestinian leadership on Thursday
banned civilians from carrying weapons and indicated it will appoint
a new security minister known for his tough stance against militants -
clear signs of seriousness about reining in violence, an Israeli
precondition for peace talks.
The Palestinians came in for praise from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon, who said Thursday that conditions are right for a
breakthrough toward peace.
Before the weapons ban was announced, Sharon said he was "very
satisfied" with the actions of new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas,
who has been pressing hard for a declaration by militant groups of a
halt to attacks against Israel, ending four years of bloody violence.
For now, the militants have agreed to a temporary suspension of
violence to test Israel´s response.
On Friday, hundreds of Palestinian policemen began deploying in the
southern Gaza Strip to prevent militants from attacking nearby Jewish
settlements and Israeli troop positions. Last week, police spread out
through northern Gaza with the same mission, and since then, there
have been few violent incidents there.
In local elections in 10 localities in Gaza on Thursday, meanwhile,
the Islamic Hamas movement scored some big victories, according to
exit polls, handily defeating Abbas´ Fatah party in three of the four
communities polled. The Hamas victories reflected widespread support
in Gaza for the violent Islamic movement, which provides welfare,
schools and kindergartens to residents, alongside its attacks against
The decree banning Palestinian civilians from holding weapons was a
gesture toward Israel and the United States, which have long demanded
the disarming of militant groups responsible for attacks that have
killed more than 1,000 Israelis. It also sent a message to
Palestinians that the Abbas regime will be based on law and order,
and that police will not allow militants to strut in public with
The decree, issued by Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, emphasized the law
and order issue, noting "the increase in the number of violent crimes
in all the governates because of the chaos of weapons."
Soon after the violence started in September 2000, Israel targeted
Palestinian police posts for destruction in response to allegations
they were involved in violence. The Israelis declared they would open
fire on any armed Palestinian - in effect disarming the police.
The main result was to weaken the authority of the Palestinian police
forces. The vacuum was filled by large militant groups, like Hamas,
Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs´ Brigades, as well as small armed
gangs who ruled neighborhoods by force of arms, often clashing among
The northern West Bank town of Jenin is a well-known center of
militant groups and gangs, and police have no authority there.
Residents say they live in fear.
"I feel insecure with guns in the hands of the people on the street,"
said Wissam Asaadi, 40. "I am worried about the security of my
children and my home," he said. "For me, personal safety is more
important than the national goals" of an end to the occupation and
creation of a Palestinian state.
Samar Aghar, 30, recounted violence she witnessed Thursday in
Nablus. "I was in the market today and I saw five gunmen shooting
randomly in the center," she said. "They were stopping cars, looking
for somebody and firing their guns in a way that was frightening the
children. I left the street and went home immediately."
She added, "I hate the uprising and I hate politics. Weapons should
be kept well out of peoples´ hands. I´m eager to see the Palestinian
Authority restore law and order."
Abbas has said repeatedly he will not crack down on militant groups,
preferring negotiation. It appeared the first target of the weapons
ban was criminal activity, while militants would be advised to keep
their weapons out of sight.
A Palestinian official said Abbas and Qureia will name Nasser Yousef
as the new Palestinian interior minister. Yousef was in charge of
cracking down on militants in the mid-1990s, and his appointment
would send another message that the Palestinian leadership intends to
rein in violence.
The Palestinian security council also decided Thursday to retire
1,076 police offers to make room for a new generation of officers.
From 1995 until the current uprising erupted, Palestinian police
patrolled the cities and towns of the West Bank, and Israel´s
military deployed at the edges of the West Bank and around Jewish
After a series of bloody suicide bombings in 2002, Israel sent its
forces back into the West Bank and retook the main towns and cities.
Palestinians hope the new trend toward calm will result in an Israeli
pullback to pre-uprising positions.
Training for 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.
Speaking at a convention of building contractors in Tel Aviv Thursday
evening, Sharon said, "I believe that the conditions are now ripe to
allow us and the Palestinians to reach a historic breakthrough in the
relations between us."
Sharon said if the Palestinians continue their present trend, Israel
could coordinate its Gaza withdrawal with them. Originally Sharon
planned the summer pullout as a unilateral step.
Palestinians said Israel would release several hundred of the 7,000
prisoners it is holding as a goodwill gesture before a summit, but
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev said there was no firm
arrangement yet. (Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 01/28/05)
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