Palestinian Police Deploy in Gaza Strip (AP) By LARA SUKHTIAN KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip 01/28/05 5:07 AM)
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KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip - Hundreds of Palestinian police deployed in
the central and southern Gaza Strip on Friday, a day after the new
Palestinian leadership banned civilians from carrying weapons and
Israel´s prime minister said conditions were ripe for a "historic"
breakthrough toward peace.
The deployment, meant to prevent attacks on Israelis, was the latest
in a flurry of steps toward ending more than four years of fighting
and resuming peace talks. Over the weekend, top Israeli and
Palestinian are to set the terms for an Israeli troop pullback from
West Bank towns, and an Israeli-Palestinian summit is expected soon.
But the ruling Palestinian leaders suffered a setback when their
Fatah party was overwhelmingly defeated by the militant Islamic group
Hamas in local Gaza elections on Thursday.
The poll results could give Hamas more leverage in its negotiations
with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas over power sharing. The results
could herald a similar strong showing for Hamas in legislative
elections set for July.
Abbas has been trying to co-opt militants into the system, recently
winning a pledge from them to temporarily halt attacks on Israel. The
Gaza vote was not expected to seriously hinder his new government.
On Friday, armed Palestinian policemen left their barracks in a long
convoy, heading for two of the most volatile areas, the refugee camps
of Khan Younis and Rafah. From there, militants have launched
hundreds of rocket and mortar attacks at Israeli troops and Jewish
settlements, and both camps have been scenes of repeated clashes
between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli troops.
Hundreds of Palestinians lined the streets to watch the police convoy
of jeeps and buses moving through the roads of Khan Younis. "Look, we
have an army and we didn´t even know it," shouted one youth as the
police went by.
An additional 600 officers deployed in central Gaza, after a morning
drill in a sports stadium in the town of Deir el-Balah. "This
decision was taken by the Palestinian leadership in order to secure
the Palestinian people and to secure our land. We will protect
security in our area and along the borders," said their commander,
Maj. Hamza Shihade.
Last Friday, Palestinian police fanned out across northern Gaza with
the same mission, and there have been few violent incidents there
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon praised the Palestinian
leadership for its actions. "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 told a convention of
building contractors in Tel Aviv Thursday evening.
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.
Results from local elections in Gaza showed Hamas winning 77 out of
the 118 seats in 10 districts, election officials said, speaking on
condition of anonymity. Official results were to be announced at
The ruling Fatah party won 26 seats, independents took 14 and the
radical Popular Front won one seat, the officials said. Hamas
officials confirmed the results.
Voters in 10 localities voted Thursday in the first-ever local
elections in Gaza. The voting followed a round of elections in 26
West Bank communities on Dec. 23.
The Hamas victories reflected widespread support in Gaza for the
violent Islamic movement, which provides welfare, schools and
kindergartens to the impoverished people in the territory, alongside
its attacks against Israel.
The decree banning Palestinian civilians from holding weapons was a
gesture toward Israel and the United States, which have long demanded
disarming of militant groups responsible for attacks that have killed
more than 1,000 Israelis. It was also 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 their weapons.
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."
Toward the beginning of four years of conflict, Israel targeted
Palestinian police posts for destruction after charges that the
official security forces were involved in violence. The Israelis
declared that they would open fire on any armed Palestinian - in
effect disarming the police.
The main result was weakening the authority and power of the official
police forces. The vacuum was filled by the large militant groups,
like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs´ Brigades, as well as
small armed gangs ruling neighborhoods and refugee camps by force.
"I feel insecure with guns in the hands of the people on the street,"
said Jenin resident Wissam Asaadi, 40.
Samar Aghar, 30, said she fled five gunmen firing Thursday in her
city of Nablus.
"I hate the uprising and I hate politics," she said. "Weapons should
be kept well out of people´s hands. I´m eager to see the Palestinian
Authority restore law and order."
Abbas has said repeatedly that he will not crack down on the militant
groups, preferring to attain calm through negotiation and
understanding. It appeared that the first target of the weapons ban
was criminal activity, while militants would be advised to keep their
weapons out of sight.
In another development, Palestinian officials said Abbas rejected the
resignation of national security adviser Jibril Rajoub, who is now
expected to return to his post. (Copyright 2005 Associated Press.
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