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Israel, PA deepen security cooperation (JERUSALEM POST) By HERB KEINON AND MARGOT DUDKEVITCH 01/30/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1106882871151 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Muhammad Dahlan, representing the Palestinian Authority, met Saturday night in Tel Aviv for nearly five hours amid optimism fanned by a week of relative quiet and Israel´s announcement it will not take military action in areas where the PA has deployed security forces.

No concrete decisions were arrived at security officials said, adding that there has definitely been progress and understanding between the two sides.

The meeting between the two men – their first in a year-and-a-half – was called to strengthen the overall security coordination between the two sides and discuss the possible transfer of West Bank cities to PA control.

Dahlan is a senior Fatah leader and former security chief considered one of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas´s close confidants.

Three mortar shells were fired at a Gush Katif settlement, and a Kassam rocket landed in the western Negev, just as the meeting at the Sheraton Moriah Hotel got under way.

Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya´alon instructed the army on Friday to curtail action in the Gaza Strip and refrain from carrying out West Bank operations without receiving his personal authorization. In addition, the Erez, Karni and Rafah crossings are expected to be opened later this week.

These steps are widely believed to have two primary objectives: to encourage the PA to continue taking action to quell firing on Israeli targets, and to "clear the decks" so that the PA can´t say it is unable to deploy troops or take action because the IDF is in the way.

Furthermore, the move is linked to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon´s top aide Dov Weisglass´s scheduled meeting Monday in Washington with new US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Friday´s decision allows Weisglass to walk into the State Department and say that Israel is taking the necessary steps to prop up Abbas.

Weisglass is expected to lobby Rice, who will accompany US President George W. Bush on his upcoming trip to Europe, to turn a deaf ear to what Jerusalem anticipates will be European calls to prod Jerusalem into beginning political negotiations with the PA immediately.

Israel´s position is that as welcome as Abbas´s initial moves have been, and the quiet that has followed, they do not constitute the implementation of Palestinian commitments under the road map to comprehensively fight terror and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.

These include making arrests, confiscating weapons, destroying the factories used to manufacture Kassam rockets and bombs and ending incitement.

Weisglass is expected to urge Rice that this is not the time to leap- frog over the first phase of the road map and into political negotiations.

He is also expected to tell the US that Israel is willing to release more Palestinian prisoners, but that this will have to wait until Abbas demonstrates more control in the territories.

At the Mofaz-Dahlan meeting they raised the issues of gradual transfer of security control of West bank cities, deployment of Palestinian security forces in the West Bank and near the Philadelphi Route and taking steps to prevent the tunnels used to smuggle weapons from Egypt to Gaza. There was also talk of additional confidence- building measures, including easing restrictions on travel in the West Bank, lifting closures and the removal of checkpoints, security officials told The Jerusalem Post.

The officials warned that despite the progress already made, the situation remains extremely fragile.

"God forbid if a suicide bomb attack occurs in Israel then the whole process will be suspended, and all advancement will be stopped," one Israeli official said.

Israel, he said, will not agree to the Palestinian request to halt targeted killings. "It is Israel´s responsibility to protect its citizens, and while the army will refrain from conducting initiated operations, if the Palestinians fail to act against "ticking bombs" then they leave Israel no option, the official said. "If we receive information that a terrorist wearing an explosives belt is en route to Jerusalem and the Palestinians fail to stop him, then we will," he added.

A second meeting between Mofaz and Dahlan is expected to take place some time later this week. Saturday night´s meeting was the first since August 2003, when similar steps were being discussed, but were brought to an abrupt end when a suicide bomber blew up a Jerusalem bus, killing 18 and wounding over 100.

While Palestinian spokesmen said Saturday that the long-awaited Sharon-Abbas meeting is scheduled for February 8, officials in the Prime Minister´s Office said that no firm date has yet been fixed, and it may be a day or two before or after this date.

Weisglass, who met top PA officials last week, is scheduled to hold a follow-up meeting with them on Thursday to finalize the agenda of the Sharon-Abbas summit.

The Mofaz-Dahlan meeting followed by a day a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos that was attended by Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the Israeli side, and PA Finance Minister Salaam Fayad, Economic Minister Maher Masri and Yasser Abed Rabbo representing the Palestinians.

Peres said that the Middle East peace "magic has returned to the mountain," a reference to Thomas Mann´s novel, The Magic Mountain, which is set in Davos.

Peres said Abbas has managed, in a few days, to "change the whole atmosphere in the Middle East." He praised the fresh approach taken both by Abbas and Sharon.

Shalom told the panel that Israel will not agree to a situation were there is "terror in the morning, funerals in the afternoon and negotiations in the evening at luxury hotels," and called on Abbas to wage an uncompromising war on terror.

Regarding disengagement, Shalom said that while the uprooting of settlements may cause a split in the nation, in a democracy the government´s decisions must be respected.

Shalom met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Hani Mulki in Davos on Saturday, and reportedly talked about possible Jordanian-Palestinian security cooperation in the West Bank. Shalom also reportedly met with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. The Foreign Ministry would not confirm that meeting. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 01/30/05)

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