Israeli Army ´Reducing Operations´ in W. Bank, Gaza (REUTERS) By Jeffrey Heller JERUSAELM, ISRAEL Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah 01/28/05 11:12 AM ET)
Reuters News Service
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel announced on Friday it was sharply
reducing 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 the assassinations of militants and followed a call by
Abbas for Israel to agree to a cease-fire with gunmen.
But in a sign of challenges for Abbas and his hopes of reviving
peacemaking, final results in Gaza council elections showed the
Islamic militant group Hamas swept nearly two-thirds of the seats,
winning control of 7 out of 10 councils.
"The clear message to the Zionist entity is that the program of the
resistance led by Hamas ... can carry out achievements in other
areas," senior group leader Mohammed al-Zahar told reporters in Gaza.
Backing away from confrontation after more than four years of
violence, the Israeli military said in a communique: "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 Yaalon had decided on the moves "in light of the
ongoing cooperation" between Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Arrangements would also be made to reopen next week Gaza border
crossings closed after 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.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Israeli Vice
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian officials hailed a new
mood of goodwill since Abbas´s election on Jan. 9 on a platform of
non-violence to replace the late Yasser Arafat.
"A window of opportunity, a dramatic change is shaping up and taking
place," said Olmert, a close ally of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Building on a northern Gaza deployment a week ago, 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 said the Palestinians must 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 truce they demand
Israel also accept in the run-up to a planned Israeli withdrawal
Zahar said Hamas would still not accept a truce unless Israel agreed
to conditions it still has not promised to fulfill, including
freeing Palestinian prisoners.
With Palestinian flags flying 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."
In a sign of a new push for peace, 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 Nidal al-
Mughrabi in Gaza and Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah) (© Reuters 2005
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