Incoming OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrachi toured Bethlehem last week amid media reports that Israel may be considering transferring security control there to the Palestinian Authority.
Mizrachi and his entourage drove through the city in four armored IDF jeeps and were followed by white pickup trucks carrying armed Palestinian policemen. The trip was coordinated by the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria with the local PA security forces.
IDF sources said that the tour was part of Mizrachi's study of the Central Command, which he will take over in mid-October, and was not connected to a possible transfer of security control. The current commander, Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni, will become the military attachÃ© in Washington.
Bethlehem is a relatively quiet city. Israel announced in June that it was significantly scaling back military operations there.
A year ago, several hundred PA paramilitary policemen, trained by US security coordinator Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton in Jordan, were allowed to deploy in the city.
The reduction in IDF operations, officials said, was connected to the continued deployment of Palestinian battalions trained by Dayton throughout the West Bank.
A battalion of several hundred Palestinian policemen recently returned from Jordan, officials said, and another traveled to the country for training. Similar battalions have also been deployed in Hebron, Nablus and Jenin.