Israel mulls PA troops in Hebron

Town's Jews warn move "extremely dangerous;" Barak vows to allow 700 PA soldiers in Jenin.

PA police 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
PA police 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel is considering allowing the Palestinians to station armed soldiers in Tulkarm and Hebron after next month's planned deployment of 700 such soldiers in Jenin, senior defense officials told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad in Jerusalem on Sunday and presented them with a detailed list of goodwill gestures Israel planned to begin making to the Palestinians in the West Bank in the next few weeks. Barak pledged to allow the PA to deploy 700 soldiers in Jenin, and to remove 50 dirt roadblocks in the West Bank and one major checkpoint - most probably between Jericho and the Dead Sea. The lifting of the roadblocks will ease travel for Palestinians driving between Jenin, Tulkarm, Kalkilya and Ramallah. The gestures also include the transfer of 25 Russian-made armored vehicles to PA forces; the establishment of PA police stations in Area B, where Israel has security authority and the PA has civil authority; the establishment of industrial zones near Jericho and near Tarkumiya, west of Hebron; the opening of a VIP lane at checkpoints; and exempting Palestinian businessmen who are approved by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) from inspections at checkpoints. In the 35-page document that Barak presented to Rice, the defense minister also pledged to invest in renovating existing checkpoints, build new housing for Palestinians in 25 villages and a new city near Ramallah, connect Palestinian villages to the Israeli power grid and allow more Palestinian laborers and businessmen to work inside Israel. Following next month's planned deployment of Palestinian soldiers - currently being trained by the US in Jordan - in Jenin, the Defense Ministry plans to offer the PA the opportunity to do the same in Tulkarm and Hebron. The soldiers in Jenin will be allowed to carry weapons and operate during the day, enforcing law and order. A top defense official told the Post on Sunday that while Hebron was a perfect place for the program, it was a sensitive issue due to the Jewish population in the city. Hebron Jewish Community spokesman David Wilder said he opposed the placement of Palestinian security forces in Hebron. "It would be extremely dangerous," said Wilder. The community is already under constant attack, he added. Shots were recently fired at his apartment, he said, leaving a hole in his son's closet. "Today a rock was thrown into the home of a family that lives next to me," Wilder said, adding that on Sunday evening a boulder was thrown at the Kiryat Arba-Hebron road by Palestinians. "The violence is continuing," he said. Following her meeting with Barak and Fayad, Rice said that Lt.-Gen. William Fraser, the US road map monitor, would check that Israel removed the roadblocks as Barak had pledged. "General Fraser will be following up on the specifics and will be also... making certain that in fact there are 50 and they are being removed, and that they in fact have some impact on the access issues," Rice said. Barak also discussed the situation in the Gaza Strip with Rice and Fayad. Officials traveling with Rice said the Palestinians had agreed to step up their efforts to prevent terrorism in the West Bank. The US issued a statement after the meeting, saying that Barak and Fayad had "agreed on concrete steps to implement the road map," the US-backed peace plan that envisions the creation of an independent Palestinian state. "This is a program that will improve the daily lives of Palestinians and help make Israel secure," the statement read. Defense officials said the West Bank access plan would be implemented in the coming weeks, but declined to say which dirt roadblocks would be removed. The officials said the plan was the result of serious staff work that spanned several weeks and took "calculated risks." "The ultimate goal is to strengthen [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas and Fayad," a top official said. "The idea is to show the Palestinian people that there is an alternative to Hamas. To do this, some risks need to be taken." Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report