Israel Cuts Back Military Actions to Answer Abbas (NY TIMES) By STEVEN ERLANGER JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 01/29/05)
NEW YORK TIMES
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JERUSALEM, Jan. 28 - In Israel´s most significant response yet to new
Palestinian policies against violence, Israel ordered its army on
Friday to stop offensive operations in the Gaza Strip and scale them
back sharply in the West Bank.
The army was ordered to stop arresting or killing wanted Palestinian
militants unless they presented an immediate threat to Israeli lives,
to lift an unspecified number of roadblocks in the West Bank to ease
movement and to reopen all three crossings into the Gaza Strip.
The orders from the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, came hours
after the Palestinian police completed their deployment throughout
Gaza, charged with stopping attacks against Israeli settlers and
The developments prompted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to remark
Thursday night, "The conditions are now ripe to allow us and the
Palestinians to reach a historic breakthrough in the relations
General Yaalon ordered the army to halt "proactive" operations in
Gaza, to allow the Palestinian security forces to redeploy "and take
responsibility for the cessation of terror attacks."
Any operation to kill militants must be authorized by General Yaalon
himself on the basis of "an immediate threat by active terrorist
cells," or what the Israelis call "ticking bombs."
The orders go some way toward meeting the requirements of the new
Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who has been trying to
negotiate a longer-term cease-fire with Palestinian militant groups
like Islamic Jihad and Hamas.
As a sign of the potential challenge to Mr. Abbas, Hamas did very
well in municipal elections held Thursday in Gaza, reflecting popular
anger at what is seen as corruption in the Palestinian Authority and
widespread support for Hamas´s record of fighting the Israelis.
Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are demanding formal Israeli agreement
to a cease-fire and the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners -
outcomes that may result from a meeting between Mr. Abbas and Mr.
Sharon, which could come before mid-February, Israeli officials said.
Muhammad Dahlan, an Abbas ally who is the former chief of security in
Gaza and a powerful figure in the new leadership, welcomed Israel´s
"It´s an encouraging measure that should facilitate the conclusion of
a cease-fire agreement," he said. The Israeli defense minister, Shaul
Mofaz, is to meet Mr. Dahlan on Sunday to coordinate security efforts
and to discuss handing over responsibility to the Palestinians in
some of the cities of the West Bank. It would be the first meeting at
ministerial level for nearly two years.
"I have known Dahlan for 15 years," Mr. Mofaz said in London. "There
is chemistry between us."
In the next few days the United States is expected to announce a
coordinating committee of Israeli, Palestinian and American security
officials to deal with complaints from the two sides about violations
of security understandings, a senior Israeli official said Friday.
The committee would be a return to an American mediating role
abandoned after the failure of the Oslo accords and the end of the
Clinton administration. The idea for the committee was brought to the
Israelis and Palestinians by William J. Burns, the assistant
secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, and would represent
another step away from unilateral Israeli decision-making.
"Sharon realizes that if the Palestinian Authority takes these steps,
he can´t miss the opportunity offered to build a better
relationship," a senior Israeli official said. "This is the first
time in years that the army is making a positive response to the
Palestinians. We know that Arafat is gone, that Abbas is a different
leader and he must be encouraged by us, and his people need to see
tangible results from his election."
Mr. Sharon also recognizes that peace is popular, another Israeli
official said, noting that a big demonstration against Mr. Sharon´s
plan to pull settlers out of Gaza was scheduled for Monday.
"Sharon needs steps by the Palestinian Authority to convince Israelis
that the settlers are wrong," the official said. "Everyone here wants
this quiet to continue and is encouraged by Abbas, and doesn´t want
it ruined by the settlers. Sharon sees the right wing against him,
but a countertrend from the street would help him."
The American involvement, coordinated with Egypt, has been important
to the latest warming, however fragile, of Israeli-Palestinian
relations. The new American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice,
leaves next week for Europe, Israel and the West Bank after meeting
with a Sharon adviser, Dov Weissglas, in Washington. President Bush
has said he wants to see an independent Palestinian state by the time
he leaves office.
The election of Mr. Abbas, who opposes violence against Israel and
calls for negotiations, has given Washington more of a case to push
Israel to respond to Palestinian concerns. Mr. Burns´s deputy, David
M. Satterfield, said in a speech in Washington that Israel must live
up to its obligations under the peace plan called the road map and
cease settlement activities in the occupied territories.
He expressed satisfaction with Mr. Abbas´s actions but said Mr. Abbas
must confront all those who wish to continue on the path of
Israeli officials also urge caution, saying Mr. Sharon will insist
that Mr. Abbas move to dismantle Hamas and Islamic Jihad, confiscate
their weapons and destroy their rocket factories before any move
toward political negotiations. Mr. Abbas wants to co-opt the
militants, not fight them. So the current optimism may founder.
Still, it was a day of movement. In another Israeli gesture to Mr.
Abbas, Jihad Massimi, a member of Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades and a
former police commander in Nablus, was released from Israeli prison
at the request of the Palestinian Authority.
Mr. Sharon is also expected to accept an army recommendation to
remove two senior Palestinian security officials from Israel´s most-
wanted list: Taufik Tirawi, commander of Palestinian intelligence
forces in the West Bank, and Rashid Abu Shubak, who succeeded Mr.
Dahlan as the head of preventive security in Gaza.
Israel is also expected to allow the resumption of deep-sea fishing
off the Gaza coast.
In Gaza, Hamas won in 10 of the strip´s 25 towns and villages,
winning control of seven of the local councils, including the three
largest, and 77 out of the 118 seats at stake. Mr. Abbas´s Fatah
faction took three councils and 39 seats, and independents won three
seats. Turnout was more than 80 percent.
The vote reflects widespread support in Gaza for Hamas, which
provides impoverished people there with welfare, health services,
schools and kindergartens - areas in which the chaotic Palestinian
Authority has failed to deliver. But a senior Israeli military
official said the results were not especially important, given the
influence of local clans that supported slates of candidates. The
vote had more to do with local issues than national policy, the
More important will be legislative elections throughout the West Bank
and Gaza on July 17.
In Beit Hanun in northern Gaza on Friday, Enshira Hamad, whose
husband is a Palestinian Authority policeman and whose son, Luai, 25,
was killed in fighting with Israel, said she had voted for
Hamas. "They are not corrupt, and there is no nepotism," she
said. "They chose the path of Islam. They helped me during this
intifada, financially and with food supplies. They don´t
differentiate. If you are Fatah, poor and a martyr, they help you."
In December, in 26 council elections in the West Bank - which has 350
councils - Fatah won 12, Hamas won 8 and independents the rest. There
will be more rounds of local elections in the coming months.
(Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company 01/29/05)
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