Israelis Halt Military Activity in Gaza (AP) By LARA SUKHTIAN RAFAH, Gaza Strip 01/28/05 4:22 PM)
AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS
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RAFAH, Gaza Strip - Israel´s army chief ordered his troops Friday to
halt raids in the Gaza Strip and move against West Bank militants
only with his approval, a major policy reversal after more than four
years of fighting and a key step toward a truce with the Palestinians.
Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon issued the orders just hours after Palestinian
police completed a deployment in Gaza, taking up positions in the
central and southern areas of the coastal strip to prevent attacks on
Israeli targets. Police deployed in northern Gaza last week.
But the fragility of the newfound cooperation between Israel and
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was underscored Friday with a
victory by the Islamic militant group Hamas in Gaza´s first-ever
The results could signal a strong showing for Hamas in July
parliamentary elections and give the group - which opposes the
existence of Israel - more leverage in power-sharing negotiations
with Abbas, who has coaxed them into an informal cease-fire.
The change in Israel´s troop deployment was the latest in a flurry of
steps toward ending more than four years of fighting and resuming
peace talks. In the coming days, top Israeli and Palestinian
officials will set the terms for an Israeli troop pullback from West
Bank towns, and an Israeli-Palestinian summit is expected soon.
Yaalon said Israel would halt military activity in areas of Gaza
where Palestinian police have been deployed. Israeli troops will
still maintain positions along main roads and near Jewish settlements
Yaalon also said arrest raids in the West Bank must be minimized and
will require his personal approval. Soldiers would only target
Palestinian militants "if there is an immediate threat by active
terror cells, and only with explicit authorization" of the army
chief, an army statement said.
Gideon Meir, a senior official at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said
Israel is trying to reward Abbas for his efforts to prevent violence.
Still, Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said Israel must go
"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.
Hundreds of Palestinian police spread out in the central and southern
Gaza Strip on Friday, completing a deployment ordered by Abbas last
week to halt attacks on Israeli targets.
Areas of southern Gaza, particularly along the border with Egypt and
near a large bloc of Jewish settlements, have been flashpoints of
violence. Militants have frequently fired guns, rockets and mortars
at Israeli positions, and troops have responded with deadly raids
that left thousands of Palestinians homeless.
More than 3,000 Palestinians have died in the four years of fighting.
In the Rafah refugee camp, perhaps hardest hit by the violence, the
arrival of Palestinian police brought a sigh of relief from residents.
"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," said Sakhri Abu Tiyour, 48.
Two of his 12 children have been seriously wounded by army fire, and
his house was leveled by an army bulldozer.
On Jan. 21, Palestinian police fanned out across northern Gaza with
the same security mission, and there have been few violent incidents
in the area since.
The police deployment was accompanied by a decree banning Palestinian
civilians from holding weapons - a nod to demands by Israel and the
United States that militants, responsible for killing more than 1,000
Israelis, must be disarmed.
"I feel that we are again approaching a new age," Israeli Vice
Premier Shimon Peres said in a panel discussion between Israeli and
Palestinian leaders at the World Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
While Abbas, elected in a presidential poll earlier this month,
remains popular with the Palestinian public, his Fatah party is
tainted by years of corruption under his predecessor, Yasser Arafat,
who died Nov. 11.
Fatah was trounced by Hamas in local elections in 10 Gaza towns,
according to results released Friday.
In Gaza City, 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 rebuilding!"
"They have clean hands and are not corrupt," said Radawan Shabat, a
65-year-old farmer in northern Gaza who voted for the group, which
has killed hundreds of Israelis in attacks.
According to unofficial results, Hamas won 77 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 the group now controlled municipal
councils in seven of the 10 towns.
Voters in 10 localities voted Thursday in the first-ever local
elections in Gaza. There also were elections in 26 West Bank
communities last month. (Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 01/28/05)
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