Palestinian Security Forces Deploy in South Gaza (REUTERS) By Nidal al-Mughrabi GAZA Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem and Wafa Amr in Ramallah 01/28/05 03:37 AM ET)
Reuters News Service
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GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinian security forces widened their control in
the Gaza Strip on Friday under orders from President Mahmoud Abbas to
prevent attacks on Israelis in another important move toward reviving
Middle East peacemaking.
But in a sign of challenges ahead for Abbas, Hamas appeared to have
made a strong showing in the first-ever municipal elections held in
the Gaza Strip, seen as a test of strength between the Islamic
militant group and the new leader.
Building on a northern Gaza deployment a week ago, some 2,000
Palestinian paramilitary police began to fan out across the southern
part of the territory, turning back the clock to the days of security
cooperation and peacemaking with Israel.
Some of the uniformed men, armed with assault rifles, took up
positions between Jewish settlements on occupied land, often hit by
mortar bombs and rockets launched by militants, and Palestinian towns.
Others were headed to Gaza´s border with Egypt, where Israel has
conducted punishing raids in Palestinian residential areas to root
out weapons-smuggling tunnels and militants.
Over the past week, violence has dropped sharply in the Gaza Strip,
where Abbas is trying to arrange a cease-fire in the run-up to a
planned Israeli withdrawal this summer.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Thursday conditions were
right for a "historic breakthrough" on peace after measures taken by
Abbas to bring calm.
He said in a speech that if Palestinians worked to "fight terror"
after more than four years of bloodshed, then Israel could move
forward with a U.S.-backed peace "road map" meant to lead to a
BUSH PRAISES ABBAS
President Bush, in an interview published on Friday in The New York
Times, said Abbas has shown strength in the early phases of his
"He is sending assurances that he will put a 100-percent effort into
protecting the people on both sides of the issue from terrorists. And
to me, that´s an impressive start," Bush said.
In a sign of a new U.S. push for peace after Yasser Arafat´s death,
officials said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would visit the
region early next month on the first trip of her new job.
Palestinians said that in order to help Abbas, elected on Jan. 9 to
succeed Arafat as president, Israel agreed in principle to pull back
troops from West Bank cities reoccupied during a 4-year-old uprising
and to free hundreds of prisoners.
A senior Israeli official confirmed such a pullout was on the cards
but said the government would not approve it until the
Palestinians "come up with a proper plan" for implementation.
The prisoners´ issue would be on the agenda at Abbas´s expected
summit with Sharon next month, the official said. A Palestinian
official said the talks may take place on Feb. 8.
In what appeared to be a setback for Abbas, unofficial election
results in the Gaza Strip indicated Hamas had won seven of 10
municipalities in Thursday´s vote.
The Independent Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research
said its exit polls showed Hamas was likely to take three of the four
biggest districts in the vote, including one where Abbas´s Fatah
movement had been expected to win.
Voter turnout topped 80 percent, Palestinian officials said.
(Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem and Wafa Amr
in Ramallah) (© Reuters 2005 01/28/05)
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