IDF OFFICERS met their Palestinian counterparts this week to co-ordinate the arrival of 700 Palestinian policemen in Hebron in an effort to crack down on Hamas before Mahmoud Abbas’s presidential term ends in January.
The 700 recently completed USbacked military training in Jordan and were due to be sent to the Palestinian section of Hebron, one of the largest and most volatile cities in the West Bank.
Last week, Palestinian security forces discovered a 150-metre-long tunnel in the city that contained several hundred kilograms of materials that could be used to make explosives. The IDF destroyed the tunnel.
The decision to permit the new deployment was made by Defence Minister Ehud Barak in an effort to bolster Mr Abbas, whose rule is likely to be challenged by Hamas when his presidential term ends.
Hebron has a large Hamas presence and the Palestinian Authority, as well as the IDF, are concerned that it may try to violently take over the West Bank as it did the Gaza Strip in 2007.
The IDF and the PA are also discussing deployments in Nablus, Tulkarm and Kalkilya, modelled on the current arrangement in Jenin where the Palestinians have beefed up their forces. The IDF has also scaled back its presence, lifted roadblocks and is working to improve the economic situation in the city. Quartet Envoy Tony Blair is spearheading the initiative.
“The Palestinians need to take control of their own cities,” a senior defence official said this week. “By permitting the deployment of more forces in the cities they will have the chance to restore order and crack down on terror groups.”
Settler leaders have protested against the arrival of the Palestinian policemen in Hebron, calling it a “dangerous and irresponsible move”.
Mr Barak and his deputy Matan Vilnai recommended that Israel extend the ceasefire with Hamas for another six months.
The truce went into effect in June and will expire in December.
However, security officials warned that Hamas might be planning to renew Kassam rocket attacks against the western Negev.
Unwelcome: Palestinian police face a hostile reception in Hebron