Palestinians present Gaza plan to Israel
GAZA: Palestinian officials presented a detailed plan to Israel for the deployment of Gaza security forces to halt attacks on Israelis, and the militant Hamas group set its terms on Thursday for a ceasefire.
“We are ready to deploy at any time and are awaiting Israel’s response to the plan saying we can take up specified positions,” a senior Palestinian security source said after Israeli top army brass met Palestinian counterparts in Gaza.
The new sign of cooperation could help revive peace hopes stirred by Mahmoud Abbas’s election as president on a platform of ending bloodshed, but dimmed by persistent militant violence in defiance of his demands they lay down their arms.
“We believe in peace and negotiations and we want through negotiations to achieve peace,” Abbas said in a speech. But in new violence, Israeli soldiers killed a 14-year-old Palestinian in the West Bank. Witnesses said he and other youths had thrown stones at troops. An Israeli military source said soldiers fired at a gunman spotted in a crowd.
Setting terms for a truce, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a leader of the militant Islamic group Hamas, told a Gaza prayer meeting Israel must halt all military activity in the territory, including overflights, abandon checkpoints and free Palestinian prisoners. Hamas has said before any ceasefire with Israel must be based on mutuality, but Zahar’s statement was the clearest sign yet the group was considering Abbas’s call for non-violence.
Israel says it will not enter into any formal truce with Hamas, which is dedicated to its destruction, or other militant groups but would respond in kind if attacks on Israelis stopped.
Breaking the ice: In an indication the ice was breaking between Israel and Abbas, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Wednesday lifted a ban on contacts with the Palestinian Authority that he imposed in response to a deadly bombing last week. Sharon softened his position after receiving information from intelligence sources that Hamas was starting to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority, a source said. Hamas boycotted the Jan. 9 election. But Sharon’s office said initial contacts would involve only security officials. It said there would be no meetings with Abbas on diplomatic issues until “Palestinians take real steps to stop terrorist operations” and rocket and mortar fire against Jewish settlements in Gaza and communities in southern Israel. reuters