Palestinian Police Deploy in Gaza Strip (AP) By LARA SUKHTIAN KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip 01/28/05 10:17 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 Israeli army chief on Friday, in turn, ordered his troops to
halt operations in areas of Gaza where Palestinian troops have taken
up positions, and to minimize arrest raids in the West Bank. A
Palestinian negotiator said Israel must halt all military activity.
The change in troop deployment 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 officials are
to set the terms for an Israeli troop pullback from West Bank towns,
and an Israeli-Palestinian summit is expected soon.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas suffered a setback when his Fatah
party was trounced by the militant Islamic group Hamas in local
elections in 10 Gaza towns. The results could herald a similar
strong showing for Hamas in parliamentary elections in July and give
the group more leverage in power-sharing negotiations with Abbas.
However, it appeared Gaza residents were mostly voting on local
issues and meant to punish Fatah for widespread government
corruption, and were not necessarily endorsing Hamas´ violent
Abbas has been trying to co-opt militants into the system, recently
winning a pledge from them to temporarily halt attacks on Israel.
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. Hundreds of Palestinians lined the
streets to watch the convoys. "Look, we have an army and we didn´t
even know it," shouted one youth as police went by.
Areas of southern Gaza, particular along the border with Egypt and
near a large bloc of Jewish settlements, have been flashpoints of
violence, with militants firing guns, rockets and mortars at Israeli
positions, and troops responding with deadly raids that left
thousands of Palestinians homeless.
In the Rafah camp, perhaps hardest hit in the fighting, Palestinian
police raised a flag atop a badly damaged house near an Israeli
military patrol road on the border with Egypt.
Resident Sakhri Abu Tiyour, 48, who saw two of his 12 children
seriously wounded by army fire and his house leveled by an army
bulldozer, said he is tired of the fighting. "It´s great that they
(the policemen) are here. Maybe now they can stop the fighters from
shooting at the Israelis, and the Israelis from shooting at us."
Last Friday, Palestinian police fanned out across northern Gaza with
the same mission, and since then, there have been few violent
The police deployment was accompanied by a decree banning
Palestinian civilians from holding weapons, in a nod to demands by
Israel and the United States that militants, responsible for killing
more than 1,000 Israelis, must be disarmed. 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
Israel´s army chief, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, on Friday ordered troops
to halt offensive operations in Gaza, and only go after West Bank
militants with his approval.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said Israel must go
further. "We call upon the Israelis to announce a full stop of
violence against Palestinians everywhere, to match our commitment to
stop violence against Israelis everywhere," Erekat said.
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.
In Gaza City, meanwhile, thousands of Hamas supporters celebrated
the election victory in a rally Friday, waving Hamas flags and
distributing candy. Supporters chanted: "Hamas is the real way to
reform and rebuilding."
According to unofficial results, Hamas won 77 out of 118 seats in 10
districts, election officials said. Fatah won 26 seats, independents
took 14 and the radical Popular Front won one seat. Hamas officials
confirmed the results, and said it now controlled municipal councils
in seven of the 10 towns.
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.
"We consider this victory as the victory of the Palestinian people,"
said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. "It´s not the victory of
somebody against somebody, the competition was to serve our people´s
interests." (© 2005 The Associated Press 01/28/05)
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