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The Central Command downplayed the decision on Monday to begin easing restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank, with senior officers claiming that the "decision can easily be reversed." On Monday, OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh ordered the Judea and Samaria Division to begin easing restrictions throughout the West Bank in conjunction with a program - agreed upon during a recent meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas - to ease checkpoint conditions for Palestinians and improve their freedom of movement.
"If this plan will impair our ability to provide security, then we can easily return to the situation when all the restrictions are in place," a senior officer warned.
The army began easing restrictions at 16 checkpoints throughout the West Bank - mostly near the security fence - by reducing the number of security checks with the goal of speeding up crossings. According to the plan, restrictions will also be eased on the transfer of merchandise and other goods from Israel to Palestinian cities in the West Bank. The plan does not affect the Gaza Strip.
"We still maintain a presence at the checkpoints, but we will now check a random number of cars but not every car," explained one officer in the Central Command, stressing that Palestinian terrorist activity had not decreased as a result of the decision. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said there were some 50 general terror alerts, in addition to another five concrete warnings.
Security officials said that the program would be implemented gradually and that the next stage would be the removal of 27 roadblocks, as promised by Olmert last week.
The plan for removing the roadblocks was originally proposed by Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh in a meeting with Defense Minister Amir Peretz last week. Peretz initially wanted to remove 59 roadblocks, but Naveh voiced strong objection to the plan, saying it would impair the IDF's ability to thwart terror attacks. Peretz consequently urged that the plan be implemented in areas where removing roadblocks would not pose a danger.