IDF to pull back ahead of PA vote

Army will enter PA-controlled cities only after receiving concrete intelligence regarding imminent attacks against Israel.

hamas rally 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
hamas rally 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
In an effort to avoid encumbering the Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections scheduled for Wednesday, the IDF on Sunday began withdrawing from PA-controlled cities and announced plans to scale back arrest operations throughout the West Bank. Senior officers said the army would enter PA-controlled cities only after receiving concrete intelligence regarding imminent attacks against Israel. In addition, the army plans to keep up its pressure on Nablus-based Islamic Jihad, believed to be behind the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv last Thursday. The IDF will return to normal operations on Thursday. Following the withdrawal from cities, troops on Wednesday will reinforce their presence along major West Bank roads, within settlements and along the seam line. Checkpoints will also be beefed up with senior IDF officers and Civil Administration officials to expedite the inspection process of PA officials. Together with the PA, the army has also set up a special "elections coordination cell" to smooth over problems that might arise at the checkpoints, including the passage of international observers, PA officials and the candidates themselves. IDF officers stressed that while they did not anticipate an escalation in violence on election day, Palestinian terrorist groups - especially Islamic Jihad - did not need an excuse or a reason to perpetrate an attack against Israel. "There are warnings without any connection to the elections," one officer said. "We do not have specific warnings about election day itself, but we will be on high alert." Meanwhile, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) recommended on Sunday that the international community adopt a policy of gradual, conditional engagement to encourage Hamas to choose politics over violence following its expected success in the elections. In a report released Sunday, the group called on Hamas to renew its unilateral cease-fire for an additional six months following the elections, to ban the display of weapons in public, to decommission weaponry that might threaten the cease-fire and to work to unify all armed elements under a central government authority. If Hamas meets the obligations stated in the report, Nicolas Pelham, a senior analyst on the Middle East for the ICG said, Israel will need to reciprocate by suspending targeted assassinations in the territories and by releasing prisoners belonging to groups that were party to the cease-fire. "Hamas is looking to elevate the role of politics over that of armed conflict," Pelham said. "As can be seen in their statements, they talk about a time for armed resistance and a time for diplomacy. They are joining the framework of Oslo and passive acceptance of a two-state solution. From their point of view they are looking towards negotiations and entry to a political system."