Israel steps back to help Abbas halt the violence (LONDON TIMES) From Ian MacKinnon in Jerusalem, ISRAEL 01/29/05)
LONDON TIMES Articles-Index-Top
ISRAELíS army chief yesterday ordered commanders to end offensive
operations in areas of Gaza where Palestinian police are being
deployed in an effort to thwart attacks by militants.
Lieutenant-General Moshe Yaalon also said that the targeted
assassinations of Palestinian militants in the West Bank would be
dramatically curtailed, and sanctioned only if there were an imminent
risk of attack on Israelis.
The shift in tactics is the latest sign that Israel is eager to help
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, to build on a period of
calm and to lay the foundations for a ground-breaking summit with
Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister.
But Mr Abbas faced a fresh challenge when Hamas, the hardline
Islamist movement, yesterday scored a resounding victory over the
Presidentís Fatah party in Gazaís first municipal elections. Hamas
won two thirds of the 118 seats and seven out of ten local
authorities where elections were held.
Fatahís defeat signalled that the electorate had grown weary of
cronyism and corruption. It also showed that Mr Abbas would have to
give greater weight to the Islamic militant organisation as he tries
to forge a ceasefire.
Yet the moves to scale back Israeli army activity in the Palestinian
territories, reopen crossing points into Gaza and ease passage along
roads in the West Bank will boost support for Mr Abbas, better known
as Abu Mazen.
Thousands of Palestinian police left their barracks yesterday to take
up positions in southern and central Gaza, matching the forces that
fanned out across the north a week ago to prevent the firing of
rockets into Israel.
They set up posts in Deir al-Balah, Khan Younis and Rafah refugee
camps, the scenes of some of the most concerted attacks by militants
on Israeli forces and Jewish settlements.
The deployment may presage Palestinian police assuming control of
cities in the West Bank. Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli Defence Minister,
is to meet Mohammad Dahlan, a key security adviser to Mr Abbas,
tomorrow to discuss the withdrawal of Israeli forces.
Other moves that Israel is said to be considering include the release
of up to 900 Palestinian prisoners ahead of the meeting between Mr
Abbas and Mr Sharon, that could take place in the next two weeks.
The release of prisoners was one of the key demands made by Hamas in
talks with Mr Abbas as he tried to secure agreement for a ceasefire
with the movement and Islamic Jihad. Hamas may seek to capitalise on
its success in Gaza by contesting elections to the Palestinian
Parliament in July.
ďFatah will have to get its act together and make real reforms to
convince people itís serious about change or it will lose heavily in
the parliamentary elections,Ē Salah Abdel Shafi, a political analyst,
predicted. (Copyright 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd. 01/29/05)
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