Tags: Says | It's | Ready | Take | Over | Gaza | Security

PA Says It's Ready to Take Over Gaza Security

Sunday, 14 August 2005 12:00 AM

Starting next week, Israel will forcibly evacuate 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the northern West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon originally called his disengagement plan a "unilateral" move, taken because there was no partner for negotiations on the Palestinian side.

A huge anti-pullout rally is planned in Tel Aviv for Thursday evening, following a large prayer meeting at the Jerusalem's Western Wall on Wednesday evening (attended by 100,000 Israelis, organizers said).

Palestinians originally considered the idea of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as an Israeli trick that would allow Israel to hang on to settlements in the West Bank.

But now Palestinian factions have embraced the idea, and they are vying for control over victory celebrations. Hamas wants to claim the Israeli withdrawal as a victory for violence, while the P.A. wants to claim it as a triumph of peace.

"We want the transition to be peaceful and hopeful," said chief P.A. negotiator Saeb Erekat. "The raising of flags [in the evacuated areas] will be a sign of hope: today Gaza, tomorrow the West Bank."

"There are those that want to portray [the withdrawal] as a result of fighting and violence," Erekat said.

In an earlier interview, a senior Hamas official in Gaza - Mahmoud al-Zahar - called Israel's retreat a defeat stemming from four years of armed struggle.

PLO official Abdallah Frangi said that Hamas was planning to make a "big show" when Israel leaves, celebrating the withdrawal as a Palestinian victory.

But the P.A. wants to use Israel's departure to inspire thoughts of a future Palestinian state, Erekat said. He said the celebrations would not be "exaggerated."

Buses will bring Palestinians to the evacuated settlements for tours, said Erekat. The evacuated areas will be put under the "rule of law" for six months, after which those who say they have a land claim in the area may file it with the court, he said.

Most of the 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are refugees and their descendants - sent to refugee camps after Israel's war of Independence in 1948. Many of them still hope to return to their former homes inside Israel.

From 1948 to 1967, the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian occupation. In 1967, Israel gained control over the area as a result of the 1967 Six-Day war. Israeli experts say that Israel subsequently attempted to give the Gaza Strip back to Egypt, but Egypt did not want it.

In 1994, Israel and the P.A. signed the Gaza-Jericho agreement, transferring control over public order and internal security in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians. Israel was effectively out of the Gaza Strip except for the settlement blocs.

But following the outbreak of Palestinian violence in October 2000, Israeli troops retook some control over the Gaza Strip, engaging in large-scale military maneuvers in order to combat the terrorist threat and prevent weapons smuggling through tunnels under the Israeli-Egyptian border.

Taking over security control of the Gaza Strip when Israel leaves will not be easy but the Palestinian Authority is ready to do so in order to prevent trouble, Erekat said.

"We are exerting maximum efforts to make sure [the disengagement] will be void of chaos and lawlessness," said Erekat. A "smooth and peaceful transition" is in the Palestinian interest, he said.

Originally initiated by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a unilateral plan, Israel is now coordinating elements of the withdrawal with the P.A.

There are plans to set up a joint coordination room of Israelis and Palestinians to monitor issues related to the disengagement while it is taking place, a military source said. The center will be opened at the Erez crossing into the northern Gaza Strip, he said.

There are more than seven training camps that have been working round the clock for six weeks to train enough forces to take over and ensure calm during the disengagement, said Erekat.

P.A. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said earlier that the world would be watching to see how the Palestinians handle the withdrawal.

Meanwhile, a senior official of Islamic Jihad said on Thursday that the Israel's pending pullout from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank did not signal the end of terrorism.

Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shallah said that following the pullout attacks would continue in the West Bank and inside Israel, despite operational difficulties for the group, Israel Radio reported.

Israeli forces recently mounted a sweeping arrest operation in the West Bank, to capture Islamic Jihad militants following a suicide bombing attack in the Israeli seaside city of Netanya, in which five Israelis were killed.

Asked whether missile attacks from the Gaza Strip would continue, Sallah said that it would depend on a number of things. One of those would be the desire to preserve Palestinian unity.

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Starting next week, Israel will forcibly evacuate 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the northern West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon originally called his disengagement plan a "unilateral" move, taken because there was no partner for...
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Sunday, 14 August 2005 12:00 AM
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