The Palestinian Authority on Thursday began enforcing a ban on public displays of weapons, arresting three people and confiscating the guns of off-duty police officers, in a key step towards imposing order on the chaotic Gaza Strip.
The crackdown came as dozens of Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank held municipal elections. Hamas was expected to make strong gains despite the IDF's continued offensive against the terrorist group.
The move came as Israel killed three Palestinian fugitives during raids in the West Bank. The offensive raised pressure on Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to act against terrorist groups and armed gangs that operate openly in Gaza.
In a move to bring order to Gaza, Palestinian officials announced Thursday a ban on public displays of weapons. Palestinian police Chief Ala Husni said that in the wake of Israel's recent pullout from Gaza there was no longer a reason for anyone other than security officers to carry weapons.
"The role of resistance weapons has ended in the streets. They should go back into storage and they should not show up in the streets," he told a news conference. "Any weapon now in the street is a criminal weapon." He said there were no plans to seize stored weapons.
Interior Ministry spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa said authorities arrested three men carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles Thursday and confiscated their weapons. Several security officers also were arrested for carrying guns while off duty, he said.
Abbas said the weapons ban was a first step to imposing law and order on Gaza, but that the Israeli military "escalation" undermined those efforts.
"This escalation is putting the entire peace process in real jeopardy," he said. "We call on Israel to stop these acts, especially since all our factions have committed themselves to the cease-fire and to ban all military parades and public displays of weapons."
The ban went into effect days after an explosion at a Hamas parade killed 21 people. Hamas blamed Israel, but Palestinian investigators said the blast was set off when militants mishandled explosives.
Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri said the group would honor the ban on displays of weapons and parades, but ruled out surrendering weapons.
Israeli officials said they wanted to see whether the pledge would be met with results. Previous campaigns to control gunmen have failed.