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IDF chief orders reduction of offensive operations in Gaza (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Amos Harel, Aluf Benn and Arnon Regular, Haaretz Correspondents, and The Associated Press 01/28/05 15:40 (GMT+2)Source: http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/533237.html HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe Ya´alon instructed commanders on Friday to minimize offensive operations in all Palestinian areas, but especially in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian security forces finished deploying Friday.

Hundreds of Palestinian police officers deployed in the central and southern Gaza Strip on Friday, a day after the new Palestinian leadership banned civilians from carrying weapons and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said conditions were ripe for a breakthrough toward peace.

The reduced military activity in Gaza is intended to allow Palestinian forces to take security responsibility in the Strip.

"The intention here is to let the Palestinian forces operate in an efficient manner and to allow them to do their job and maintain order," said David Baker, an official in the prime minister´s office.

If the quiet continues, the IDF will open the Erez, Karni and Rafah crossings, which connect Gaza to Israel and Egypt, starting next week. The Karni crossing was opened Friday for four hours to allow fruit deliveries to the Strip.

In the West Bank, the reduced military activity will focus on immediate security needs and operations against terror cells. Any operations in the West Bank are now subject to Ya´alon´s approval, he said Friday.

The IDF also intends to ease restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank.

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 Yunis and Rafah. From there, militants have launched hundreds of rocket and mortar attacks at Israeli troops and 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 Yunis. "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 since then, there have been few violent incidents there.

Over the weekend, top Israelis and Palestinians are to set the terms for an Israeli troop pullback from West Bank towns, and an Israeli- Palestinian summit is expected soon.

Mofaz to discuss PA control of West Bank towns

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was set to consult with security officials Friday on the possibility of transferring control of West Bank towns to Palestinians, Israel Radio reported.

Mofaz met Thursday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London and informed him of plans to meet with former Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan on the possibility that security arrangements can be completed in time to initiate the transfer of West Bank towns to Palestinian security control.

Mofaz expressed his hope that the transfer will take place as soon as the Palestinians are ready to undertake the responsibility.

PM: Breakthrough will bring us calm and security

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon struck a note of optimism on Thursday when he said "the conditions have been created that will enable us and the Palestinians to reach a historic breakthrough in our relations."

Speaking at a meeting of the Contractors Association, he described the breakthrough as one "that will bring us to calm and security and in the future to the desired peace."

Sharon said "we are following with great interest the recent developments in the Palestinian Authority and it is apparent that there is a positive approach to the fight against terrorism and to the furthering of the diplomatic process.

"If the Palestinians take extensive action to end terrorism, violence and incitement, we will be able to proceed in our contacts for the implementation of the road map and it is even possible to coordinate a variety of actions regarding the disengagement plan," he added.

"We are seeing encouraging signs, but these things need to stand up to the test of time," Sharon said.

Among the signs Sharon was referring to was an edict issued Thursday by the new Palestinian leadership banning civilians from carrying weapons.

In issuing the decree, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia stressed that the "chaos of the weapons" had led to a rise in lawlessness.

Also Thursday, sources in the PA said that Nasser Yousef was due to be appointed interior minister in the Qureia government. Yousef was in charge of cracking down on militants in the mid-1990s and his likely appointment is another signal that the new PA leadership is serious about restoring law and order. (© Copyright 2005 Haaretz. 01/28/05)

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