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(photo credit: AP [file])
Israeli and Palestinian government officials met Monday in an undisclosed location to begin talking about renewing security cooperation, which essentially stopped with the start of the latest wave of Palestinian violence in September 2000.
Although IDF officers at the level of brigade commanders have met with Palestinian Authority security service officers over the last few months to discuss local problems, this was the first time that Defense Ministry representatives met with PA Interior Ministry officials in more than two years.
These talks, according to Israeli sources, are the very beginning stages of what could ultimately lead to a return of security control over West Bank areas to the PA.
The PA enjoyed security control over much of the West Bank until Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002, when the IDF - following a month in which more than 135 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks - reasserted its control over the entire West Bank.
"If they want to take back security responsibility, then there needs to be cooperation and they need the capability," one government source said.
The source said the sides needed to discuss what type of cooperation was now possible and what type of lessons needed to be learned from previous experiences.
The official would not say how often these talks would take place, reiterating that "we are at stage one."
Plans are also going ahead for setting another meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert said last week at the Sharm e-Sheik summit that he and Abbas would meet about every two weeks.
The Prime Minister's Office would not confirm that a meeting is planned for next week, but said that talks on the issue were underway.
Monday's security talks were slammed by Hamas. Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the movement, accused Abbas of being an Israeli collaborator.
"The latest security meetings... render the [Palestinian] security agencies tools in the hands of Israeli intelligence," he said.
Hamas is now coming under pressure in the West Bank both from the IDF and from the new PA government.
Palestinian security officials said Tuesday they were holding dozens of Hamas members in the West Bank, and that dozens more had been arrested and released.
Col. Maher Dwaikat, head of Palestinian Preventive Security in Ramallah, said his men had instructions to arrest armed members of Hamas. Some were arrested and released after having their weapons confiscated, Dwaikat said, while others remained in detention.
"All of our efforts now are to prevent Hamas from carrying out another military coup in the West Bank," he said.
Hamas' military wing has called the Abbas crackdown in the West Bank a "conspiracy" and accused his government of collaborating with Israel.
Hamas's fighters "will not be patient for long in the face of these cowardly, criminal attacks, which are carried out in full coordination with the Zionist occupation, in a blatant and low manner," read a statement on a Hamas Web site.
The situation in the PA is expected to come up in talks in Paris on Wednesday between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. This will be the first meeting by an Israeli cabinet minister with the new French leadership.
AP contributed to this report.