Israeli Army Says Reducing Operations in W. Bank, Gaza(REUTERS) By Jeffrey Heller JERUSALEM, ISRAEL Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem and Wafa Amr in Ramallah 01/28/05 07:38 AM ET)
Reuters News Service
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel will sharply reduce its military
operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in response to efforts by
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to end attacks on Israelis.
The new rules of engagement, issued soon after Palestinian
paramilitary police widened their control in the Gaza Strip, put
limits on so-called assassinations of militants and appeared aimed at
boosting Abbas, who hopes to revive peacemaking.
But in a sign of challenges for Abbas, unofficial results showed the
Islamic militant group Hamas swept nearly two-thirds of the seats in
Gaza Strip council elections seen as a test of strength between Hamas
An Israeli military communique on Friday said: "Proactive army
operations in the Gaza Strip will cease in the areas in which
Palestinian security forces have redeployed."
It said "army targeting of terrorists in the West Bank will take
place only if there is an immediate threat by active terrorist cells"
and only with explicit authorization from the chief of staff.
The statement said army chief Moshe Yaalon had decided on the
moves "in light of the ongoing cooperation between Israel and the
representatives of the Palestinian Authority."
Arrangements would be made, the army said, to reopen next week Gaza
border crossings closed after a series of attacks by gunmen.
Responding to the Israeli announcement, Palestinian cabinet minister
Saeb Erekat called on Israel to declare a full cessation of violence
"We have a similar obligation to stop violence against Israelis
anywhere in line with the ´road map´," he said about a U.S.-backed
peace plan charting mutual steps toward creation of a Palestinian
state alongside a secure Israel.
PALESTINIAN POLICE DEPLOY IN S. GAZA
Building on a northern Gaza deployment a week ago, some 2,000
Palestinian paramilitary police fanned out across the southern part
of the occupied territory, which they have not patrolled since 2001.
The United States and Israel have demanded the Palestinians crack
down on militant attacks on Israelis before peacemaking can move
Over the past week, violence has dropped sharply in the Gaza Strip,
where Abbas is trying to coax militants into a cease-fire in the run-
up to a planned Israeli withdrawal this summer.
With Palestinian flags flapping from their vehicles, paramilitary
police drove in a convoy to Gaza´s border with Egypt, where Israel
has mounted punishing raids in residential areas to root out weapons-
smuggling tunnels and gunmen.
Other contingents armed with assault rifles took up positions between
Jewish settlements on occupied land, frequently hit by mortar bombs
and rockets fired by militants, and Palestinian towns.
"I am very happy. Now we can sleep in peace," said Salah al-Najar,
who lives near the Jewish settlement of Morag. "My children were
constantly afraid of noises Israeli tanks made."
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Thursday conditions were
right for a "historic breakthrough" on peace after measures taken by
Abbas, including reaffirmation of a long-standing weapons ban for
civilians, to bring calm.
President Bush, in an interview published on Friday in The New York
Times, said Abbas had 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 push for peace after Yasser Arafat´s death, U.S.
officials said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would visit the
region early next month. Palestinian officials said she would hold
talks in Israel and the West Bank on Feb. 6 and 7. (Additional
reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem and Wafa Amr in Ramallah)
(© Reuters 2005 01/28/05)
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