Israelis Halt Military Activity in Gaza (AP) By LARA SUKHTIAN KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip 01/28/05 11:34 AM)
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KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip - Israel´s army chief ordered troops to halt
operations in the Gaza Strip on Friday and to scale back raids in
the West Bank, as hundreds of Palestinian police deployed in the
volatile central and southern parts of the territory.
The army chief, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, said Israeli troops could
only go after militants with his approval. The order would
significantly limit Israeli military action against extremist
groups - but was still short of a public declaration of a cease-fire
sought by Palestinians to seal a truce with militants.
"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," Palestinian Cabinet minister
Saeb Erekat said.
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.
In another of the fast-paced steps indicating a move toward an
Israeli-Palestinian truce, the former Egyptian ambassador to Israeli
said Egyptian officials will travel to the Palestinian territories
next week for talks about a cease-fire.
Mohammed Bassiouni also said in Cairo that Egypt will deploy 750
troops along the Gaza border next month.
Egypt has been prodding the militants toward the cease-fire proposed
by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as part of international efforts
to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Abbas arrived Friday in
Cairo where he is scheduled to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
But Abbas, the Palestinian leader, 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
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 ideology.
"We need to have good education and a good heath system," said Mona
Ibrahim In Bani Suhalia in southern Gaza. "Fatah has been all about
nepotism and bribes. Nepotism and bribes flourished during the Fatah
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
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, waving Hamas flags and distributing
candy. Supporters chanted: "Hamas is the real way to reform and
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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