Israel to halt offensive actions as PA deploys police to southern Gaza (ISRAEL INSIDER) By Israel Insider staff and partners 01/28/05)
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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.
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.
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.
Indeed, despite the deployment, Palestinian terrorists continued to
fire five mortar shells at Israeli communities. No one was injured.
Israel National News reported the frustration of Israeli residents in
a Jewish settlement bloc. "The same people who shoot us at night
patrol doing the day. Our own Arab workers tell us, ´You are idiots.
They are the same people,´" said one Gush Katif resident.
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 their weapons.
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.
A "security source" confirmed to the Israel Media Resource Agency
this afternoon that the IDF will not operate in areas of the Gaza
Strip against terror activities where Palestinian security forces
have redeployed. In addition the IDF will only act in the West Bank
against terror activities with the approval of the Chief of Staff.
While the IDF considers the manufacture of rockets to be "terror
activities" it is a judgment call as to if the ongoing production of
rockets could be considered an "immediate threat".
Thus, for all practical purposes, this announcement may very well be
a notice to the terror infrastructure that until further notice they
may produce rockets and other weapons without being concerned that
the IDF will interfere.
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." (© 2001-2005 Koret Communications Ltd. 01/28/05)
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