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Mofaz: 75% drop in attacks as of late (JERUSALEM POST) By HERB KEINON AND JPOST STAFF 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
In the past few days there has been a 75 percent decrease in the number of violent attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Sunday.

Speaking at the cabinet meeting, Mofaz updated the government on his Saturday night meeting with former Palestinian Authority security chief and senior Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan.

Mofaz also noted that Israel was considering acquiescing to the PA´s requests to release Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in Israeli prisons, although it has not yet been agreed how many and when the release would take place, Army Radio reported.

The defense minister noted that only prisoners with "no blood on their hands" would be considered for release.

Mofaz and Dahlan met Saturday night in Tel Aviv for nearly five hours amid optimism fanned by a week of relative quiet and Israel´s announcement it would not take military action in areas where the PA has deployed security forces.

Summarizing the agreements the two reached during the meeting, Mofaz announced Sunday morning that within the next few days, full security control over a number of West Bank towns would be transferred to the Palestinian Authority.

"One of the things we discussed yesterday was the question of handing over the [West Bank] towns. We haven´t yet settled on exactly which towns, but in a number of towns [security] responsibility will be handed over in the next few days. We will meet again in order to settle these questions," Mofaz said in a morning interview with Army Radio.

On Sunday afternoon, however, Palestinian sources reported that already by Wednesday PA security forces would gain control over four major West Bank cities: Ramallah, Tulkarm, Kalkilya and Jericho.

Saturday´s meeting was the first meeting in a year-and-a-half between Mofaz and Dahlan, who is considered one of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas´s close confidants.

Mofaz emphasized the importance of building trust with the Palestinians, but stressed that this would not be done at the price of the safety of Israel´s citizens. "We will continue to do everything for their security," the defense minister assured.

Additionally, Mofaz noted that after the implementation of the disengagement plan and withdrawal from the Palestinian territories, there would no longer be an IDF presence in Palestinian towns in the Gaza Strip.

"The date we have set for ourselves is the end of this year. Then, the war against Palestinian terrorists will be the responsibility of the Palestinians. Over time they [PA law enforcement] will get stronger and will be able to operate even more effectively against terror."

The two also discussed the deployment of Palestinian security forces 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. Also, the Prime Minister´s Office confirmed on Sunday Palestinian reports that the long-awaited Sharon- Abbas meeting will take place on February 8.

Meanwhile, in further recognition of the PA´s efforts to curtail terrorist attacks against Israel, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya´alon instructed the army on Friday to minimize action in the Gaza Strip and refrain from carrying out West Bank operations without receiving his personal authorization. In addition, the Gaza Strip´s 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. Margot Dudkevitch contributed to this report. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 01/30/05)

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