soldiers 248.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Days ahead of Defense Minister Ehud Barak's visit to the United States for talks with the Obama administration over settlement construction, the IDF on Thursday announced that it was scaling back operations in four major West Bank cities.
It was unclear whether the decision was directly connected to the talks in Washington, but defense officials told The Jerusalem Post that the move was made following American demands that Israel scale back its presence in the West Bank and transfer security responsibility to the Palestinian Authority.
The decision to scale back operations in Ramallah, Jericho, Bethlehem and Hebron was announced at a meeting between IDF officers and their Palestinian counterparts in Bethlehem.
The meeting was attended by the head of the IDF Civil Administration, Brig-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, and the commander of the Judea and Samaria Division, Brig.-Gen. Noam Tivon.
Defense officials said the move did not transfer security control over the cities to the Palestinians, and that the IDF still retained the right to operate there on a regular basis.
"We want to give the Palestinians the chance to demonstrate their ability to enforce law and order and crack down on Hamas and other terror elements, independently, without our intervention," one official explained.
Nevertheless, sources said that if intelligence was received regarding planned terrorist attacks against Israel, the IDF would not hesitate to operate within those cities.
The State Department on Thursday night expressed appreciation for the Israeli steps to ease Palestinian movement.
An officer from the Central Command warned that the move would enable terrorists to transfer weaponry throughout the West Bank. The officer also warned that the gradual removal of more than 140 roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank over the past 18 months would make it more difficult to stop terrorists from trying to infiltrate into Israel.
"If there used to be three checkpoints that terrorists needed to cross before getting into Israel, now there is only one," the officer said.
The move, officials said, was connected to the continued deployment throughout the West Bank of Palestinian battalions trained by US security coordinator Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton in Jordan. A battalion of several hundred Palestinian policemen recently returned from Jordan, officials said, and another traveled to the country for training.
Prior to the decision, the IDF primarily operated in the West Bank cities between midnight and 5 a.m., while Palestinian security forces were permitted to operate almost exclusively during the day. Following the reduction, PA troops will now be allowed to operate 24 hours a day in the cities, with Israeli troops entering only when urgent threats arise.