Kalkilya Redeployment Hailed As IDF Assigns Blame for Nablus

As Israel Defense Force officials declared this weekend’s redeployment from the West Bank town of Kalkilya a success, an army inquiry put some of the blame on a district commander for the unruly scenes that accompanied the army’s pullback last week from Nablus.

The inquiry, led by Maj. Gen. Gabi Ofir, found that the commander in charge of the IDF forces in Nablus and made a mistake when he sent a group of female soldiers to the former military headquarters in Nablus to clean up the offices when the army withdrew, Israel Radio reported.

Word had gotten out that the Israeli redeployment had begun two days ahead of scheduled, and crowds of Palestinians surged to the headquarters, surround the women and burning Israeli flags left at the scene.

The peaceful Israeli redeployment from Kalkilya on Saturday night came one day ahead of schedule, as Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization continued efforts to accelerate implementation of the accords signed in September for extending West Bank autonomy.

Hundreds of Kalkilya residents cheered as Israeli soldiers withdrew from the military headquarters in the West Bank town, the fourth of six Arab population centers slated to be transferred to Palestinian rule by the end of the year under the terms of the agreement.

During the past month, Israeli forces have withdrawn from Jenin, Tulkarm and Nablus.

Maj. Gen. Han Biran, commander of a region that includes the West Bank, said Israeli and Palestinian forces worked closely Saturday to ensure a smooth transition in Kalkilya.

With a population of some 75,000 Palestinians, Kalkilya closely borders the Israeli community of K far Saba.

K far Saba Mayor Yitzhak Wald, recognizing that criminal and terrorist incidents had resulted because of the proximity of Kalkilya, said he hoped that the redeveployment would usher in a new era of hope. “We have enough reasons to worry, [but] we are nor afraid,” he told Israel Radio. “We hope that we shall have a real peace between us and our neighbors.”

Moshe Katan, mayor of the West Bank settlement of Alfe Menashe, also located near Kalkilya, sent a letter of congratulations to the mayor of Kalkilya on its first day of self-rule.

He wrote that he supported a dialogue with the Palestinian Authority, and ended the letter by writing in Arabic that close neighbors are better than faraway brothers.

Israeli troops are scheduled to withdraw from the West Bank towns of Ramallah and Bethlehem before the end of the month.

The redeployment from Bethlehem was expected to be delayed by a few days to allow for completion of a bypass road that would enable settlers to avoid driving through the Palestinian population center.

Meanwhile, in Nablus on Sunday, Palestinian police arrested more than 40 members of the Fatah Hawks, an armed group that fought against Israel during the initifada, or Palestinian uprising, and that has refused to lay down its arms. The arrests were part of an effort to crack down on armed groups operating independently inside the city.

Palestinian police reportedly wounded two members of the Fatah Hawks in a shootout when they refused to surrender. The group’s leader in Nablus, Ahmed Tabouk, surrendered to Palestinian police later in the day, Palestinian sources said.

The PLO reportedly wants to try him in connection with rebelling against its leadership.

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