Israel to limit strikes in West Bank, Gaza (THE BOSTON GLOBE) By Dan Ephron, Globe JERUSALEM, Israel 01/29/05)
BOSTON GLOBE Articles-Index-Top
JERUSALEM -- Israel announced yesterday that it would curtail
offensive operations against Palestinians in response to President
Mahmoud Abbas´s efforts to halt attacks on the Jewish state, marking
a significant step toward a full-scale cease-fire between the two
The decision followed the deployment of Palestinian police yesterday
in the central and southern parts of the Gaza Strip to deter
militants who have frequently fired rockets and mortars at Israeli
communities. Palestinian troops had taken up positions in northern
Gaza and brought about a sharp drop in attacks.
But in a blow to Abbas, the Islamic extremist group Hamas celebrated
a stunning victory in seven of 10 municipal elections in Gaza,
thrashing the mainstream Fatah faction -- Abbas´s party -- and
raising the profile of the Islamists as a political force.
Yesterday, after the Palestinian police deployment, the Israeli army
said in a statement that it was cutting back offensive measures ´´in
light of the ongoing cooperation between Israel and representatives
of the Palestinian Authority." It said ´´proactive operations" would
be minimized in the West Bank and halted altogether in areas of Gaza
where Palestinian police are deployed.
The statement also said the ´´targeting of terrorists," a reference
to Israel´s policy of killing fugitives in pinpoint air and ground
strikes, would take place ´´only if there is an immediate threat" and
only with the explicit authorization of the army chief, Lieutenant
General Moshe Yaalon.
Israel also said that by next week it would reopen all border
crossings in Gaza that were closed after Palestinians attacked the
Karni checkpoint on Jan. 13, killing six Israelis. Israel also
pledged to ease travel restrictions in the West Bank.
The decisions appear to meet some of the demands put forward by armed
Palestinian groups as their price for a long-term truce, which Abbas
has been trying to orchestrate since his election on Jan. 9. Most of
the groups had been informally honoring Abbas´s request last week for
a monthlong, unilateral cease-fire.
Israeli officials said other measures, including a timetable for the
withdrawal of Israeli troops from West Bank towns, would be discussed
at a summit between Abbas and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, expected
to be held next week.
Diplomacy between the two sides is surging, in contrast to years of
estrangement. Israel´s defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, is scheduled to
meet this weekend with Mohammad Dahlan, a security adviser to Abbas.
Shimon Peres, a member of Sharon´s Cabinet, held talks with
Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad yesterday on the sidelines
of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
´´It´s the first time I can recall that someone has taken on
leadership and in a few days changed the whole atmosphere in the
Middle East," Peres said in Davos yesterday, referring to Abbas.
Abbas succeeded Yasser Arafat after his death last November,
inheriting a 4¬Ĺ-year-old insurgency in the West Bank and Gaza Strip
that has killed thousands and ravaged the Palestinian economy.
His endeavor to end the armed uprising is opposed mainly -- though
not solely -- by Hamas, an Islamic opposition group that has ventured
in the past month into the political arena for the first time,
sponsoring local candidate slates in a series of municipal elections.
In Thursday´s voting in 10 local councils, the group won 75 of the
118 council seats up for grabs, compared to 39 for Fatah. The results
surprised most analysts, who had predicted that Hamas would claim
only about 35 seats.
Thousands of Hamas supporters marched in Gaza City yesterday carrying
the group´s signature green flag, while loudspeakers blared with the
slogan, ´´Hamas´s victory proves Islam is the solution." Spokesmen
for the group, which rejects Israel´s right to exist and is listed as
a terrorist organization by the United States, attributed the showing
to the hard line Hamas takes against the Jewish state and to the
popularity of its suicide attacks that have killed hundreds of
´´Our people have a consensus on the choice of jihad and resistance,
and the election has underscored that concept," a Hamas spokesman,
Muhir al-Masri, said in Gaza.
Analysts said Hamas´s victory had more to do with the anger felt by
Palestinians toward alleged corruption in the Fatah-run Palestinian
´´It shows clearly that the people will hold the authority
accountable when it fails or engages in corruption," said Hassan
Kashef, a political analyst in Gaza. He said the results would force
Abbas to shake up Fatah before parliamentary elections this summer or
face the possibility of the party being overtaken by Hamas.
Fatah, the main faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has
dominated Palestinian politics for more than 40 years. But its
leaders have been dogged by allegations that they have stolen or
mismanaged millions in foreign aid money since Arafat set up his
administration in the West Bank and Gaza a decade ago.
Hamas, by contrast, hands out money to thousands of needy
Palestinians through charities it runs across the West Bank and Gaza.
The group is largely perceived by Palestinians as untainted by
´´Hamas succeeded by choosing the right candidates -- people who are
technocrats and have experience in work," said Ahmed Al-Kurd, who
heads a Hamas charity in the Gaza Strip town of Deir Al-Balah and was
elected Thursday to be its next mayor.
The 56-year-old schoolteacher said in an interview that most
residents of his town were eager to see the municipality overhauled
after a decade under Fatah´s administration. (Copyright 2005 The New
York Times Company 01/29/05)
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