bethlehem christmas 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
In another step aimed at bolstering the Palestinian Authority, Israel will allow the deployment of close to 1,000 PA policemen in Bethlehem in the run-up to the Christmas period.
Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the head of the Civil Administration in the West Bank, will meet Wednesday with his Palestinian counterparts to discuss a request to increase the number of PA policemen currently stationed in Bethlehem.
Defense officials said Monday that the Palestinians have asked Defense Minister Ehud Barak to permit the deployment of an additional 900 policemen in the city in an effort to bolster PA President Mahmoud Abbas's rule in the West Bank.
Additional policemen were allowed to deploy earlier this year in Nablus and Jenin.
The officials said that if the PA forces were effective in cracking down on terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank, Israel would consider transferring security control over the cities to the Palestinians.
The deployment, officials said, would likely take place in the coming weeks and before Christmas when Bethlehem turns into a major tourist site.
The deployment in Bethlehem comes on the heels of a similar deployment in Hebron last month, during which over 500 Palestinian policemen were allowed into the city to participate in a major crackdown on Hamas.
Last week, defense officials said that the IDF was satisfied with the Hebron operation, in which over 260 Hamas operatives have been arrested.
Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh said that he expects a good Christmas season this year.
PA Information Minister Riad Malki said the number of tourists to the Palestinian areas has grown steadily since 2006, following a sharp decline in Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
Malki said almost 1.2 million tourists have visited the West Bank this year, compared to 700,000 in all of 2007, and 400,000 in 2006. Hotel occupancy was 70 percent in 2008, he added. The surge in tourism has created 12,000 new jobs in Bethlehem, Jericho and Ramallah, he said.
AP contributed to the report.