Israel to U.S.: Press Syria in Order to Aid Abbas
By Aluf Benn, Arnon Regular, and Amos Harel
Israel plans to ask the United States to offer assistance to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and help him contend with any threats to his rule.
According to government sources, Israel will tell the U.S. administration that the main threat to Abbas' leadership comes from Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. "Anyone who wants Abu Mazen [Abbas] to succeed must increase the pressure on them," one source said over the weekend. Officials added that Hezbollah's attacks in the Har Dov region last week were provocations aimed at disrupting the recent Israeli-Palestinian thaw.
Israel will, however, oppose any attempt to view the initial steps against terror taken by Abbas last week as fulfillment of the PA's obligations under the first stage of the road map peace plan and as justification for skipping straight to final-status negotiations, sources said.
They expressed fears that the PA will arrive at an international conference in London on March 1, which was called to strengthen Abbas' government, and declare that it has fulfilled its first-stage road map obligations, leaving the ball in Israel's court.
Over the weekend, PA security forces deployed in northern Gaza in an effort to halt attacks, and Palestinian sources said that in the coming days the deployment will be extended to central and southern Gaza - including the Philadelphi route, on the Gazan-Egyptian border, which has been a major flash point.
As a result, Gaza experienced its most peaceful weekend since the short-lived cease-fire of summer 2003. For the last five days, no Qassams have been fired at Sderot, and for three days, no mortars have been fired at the Gush Katif settlements. There were only four shooting incidents in Gaza this weekend, with no Israeli casualties, though Israel Defense Forces soldiers shot and wounded two Palestinians carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The IDF has suspended all offensive operations in Gaza and if the quiet lasts, it will continue this policy.
In the West Bank, however, soldiers killed an unarmed Palestinian close to the separation fence near Qalqilyah after he failed to respond to orders to halt and to warning shots. The soldiers said they feared he was a terrorist trying to cut through the fence and enter Israel. Palestinians, however, claimed that the man was mentally ill.
In the coming days, three high-level Israeli officials will visit Washington to discuss the new situation created by Abbas' election: Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's special adviser, Dov Weisglass. William Burns, who heads the State Department's Middle East desk, will visit Israel this week to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Both government and army sources expressed satisfaction with the PA's troop deployment in northern Gaza, with the former attributing it largely to Israeli diplomatic pressure. "If things continue this way, there is no doubt we'll have a partner here," said one.
The sources added that if the quiet in Gaza continues after the end of the Id al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) holiday on Sunday, which is thought to have contributed to the lull, efforts to arrange a Sharon-Abbas meeting will resume and the Karni crossing between Israel and Gaza will reopen. These efforts were halted, and the checkpoint closed, following an attack at Karni 10 days ago that killed six Israelis.
On Friday, Israel reopened the Rafah crossing from Egypt into Gaza, though not in the other direction.
Over the weekend, some 2,000 Palestinian policemen deployed in three northern Gaza towns - Beit Hanun, Beit Lahiya and the Jabalya refugee camp - and in the area between these towns and the Erez and Karni checkpoints. Palestinian sources said that Sunday, PA forces will deploy in Khan Yunis, in central Gaza; around Rafah, on the Egyptian border; and on the seam between the Rafah refugee camps and the Philadelphi road.
Philadelphi, in addition to being the scene of frequent Israeli-Palestinian clashes, is also the main locus of arms smuggling from Egypt into Gaza. "One of the main goals is a significant deployment in the refugee camps near the border," said one Palestinian source.
In northern Gaza, the Palestinian sources said, PA policemen set up roadblocks on both main and side roads and searched passing cars for weapons. They also returned to police stations and lookout posts that were abandoned during the intifada, including in areas where the IDF has hitherto forbidden Palestinian movement.
The sources said that the policemen were instructed to prevent rocket and mortar launches "at any price," including using weapons against militants preparing a launch.
In another sign of thawing relations, Palestinian Minister Saeb Erekat called Sharon's political adviser, Shalom Tourjeman, last Thursday to say that the Palestinians were pleased with the previous day's security coordination meeting.