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Palestinian Authority security forces are beginning to demonstrate "positive signs" and have started rounding up wanted gunmen and collecting weapons throughout the West Bank, according to the head of the Civil Administration in the territories, Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai.
"Their operations in the cities are in coordination with us," he told The Jerusalem Post Thursday. "The IDF continues to have freedom of operation, but we are allowing the PA to conduct their own operations and we are starting to see signs that their forces are restoring order and are arresting some people and interrogating them."
Mordechai said arrested suspects were usually not charged or tried for crimes. He said weapons were being collected according to the terms of an agreement the Defense Ministry signed with the PA earlier this month. Under that agreement, gunmen are granted the opportunity to surrender their weapons and be taken off Israel's list of fugitives.
The Civil Administration was upgrading relations with the new PA government led by Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, Mordechai said. For the first time since 2005, it had reestablished coordination committees and District Coordination Offices (DCO) in an effort to strengthen PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and PA governmental institutions, he said.
"Since Hamas's victory in the elections, we refused to deal with the government and coordinated everything with the civilian population," Mordechai said. "Now, we have decided - with the establishment of the Fayed government - to begin renewing coordination committees in the West Bank."
The establishment of the DCOs was a necessary preliminary step before turning security control of the Palestinian cities over to the PA, government sources said Thursday.
The goal, according to the sources, is to eventually transfer security control of the cities, but this was something that has to be built up to through a number of smaller steps, such as the reestablishment of the DCOs.
As a first stage, the Civil Administration has started coordinating humanitarian and civilian issues with the PA in Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus, Kalkilya and Jericho. The next stage will be to upgrade the coordination level and to renew joint committees on agriculture, water, sewage and additional civilian matters.
"The last time there was a situation like this was the end of 2005," Mordechai said.
"The Palestinian who used to come to me to get service now has to go through the PA," he added. "This has an element that can strengthen the PA government, and this is the significance of the move."
In an unrelated development, Israel did allow the transfer of 1,000 rifles from Jordan to PA security forces in the West Bank earlier this month, informed sources confirmed Thursday. The decision was made as part of the government's policy to do what it can to strengthen Abbas and keep Hamas from making inroads in the West bank.
Meanwhile, Abbas said Thursday he hopes to reach a full peace deal with Israel within a year, after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert floated the idea of starting with a joint declaration on the contours of a Palestinian state.
Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin said Abbas told him in a meeting Thursday that he wants to move quickly toward a final peace deal.
"If there is an opportunity now, then it's better to go for the whole thing than a declaration of principles," he quoted Abbas as saying. "He says we have enough time to prepare for a full peace deal," he added.
Beilin said Abbas's time in office was also a factor in trying to wrap up a peace deal.
"The maximum he has is another year-and-a-half," he said. "He does not have any intention to be a candidate for another term."
AP contributed to this report.