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Israel Begins Troop Redeployments Despite New Outbursts of Violence

Despite ongoing Palestinian attacks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel has begun implementing its end of a cease-fire agreement.

On Thursday, the Israel Defense Force began withdrawing from positions set up around Palestinian areas following the outbreak of violence last September.

As part of the withdrawal, Israeli troops removed concrete roadblocks and pulled back tanks from a number of areas. In Gaza, Israeli settlers tried to prevent the IDF withdrawal.

The IDF redeployments took place despite the slaying of an Israeli security officer that day in what appeared to be a planned Palestinian assassination.

According to reports, the security officer was killed and one of his body guards wounded when they were shot at close range by a Palestinian on a West Bank road.

The wounded bodyguard killed the Palestinian gunman, Israeli security sources said. An Israeli rescue worker who arrived at the scene shortly after the attack said there were no bullet holes on the outside of the car, indicating that the shooting had been at close range.

The incident followed one the night before, when a Palestinian was killed and two others wounded in a drive-by shooting on a West Bank road near Jerusalem. Israeli security forces are investigating, though an IDF officer said the shooting appeared to have been carried out by Palestinians who mistook the car for an Israeli car.

The IDF began easing restrictions on Palestinians following a meeting Wednesday of security officials from both sides arranged by CIA Director George Tenet, who mediated the fragile cease-fire.

Though the truce officially went into effect Wednesday afternoon, there were sporadic incidents of violence.

On Thursday, Palestinian gunmen fired five mortars at an Israeli settlement in Gaza, the IDF charged.

The same day, Israeli police detained five Palestinians and an Israeli Arab in a car in central Israel, carrying knives, yarmulkas and cellular phones. The six, suspected of planning a terror attack, were handed over to the Shin Bet domestic security service for questioning.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Thursday that because of the ongoing violence, the clock could not start ticking for the “cooling-off” period the two sides agreed to in the cease-fire agreement.

The agreement calls for a number of steps in the coming days.

On Friday, Israeli and Palestinian security officials were slated to meet, while the IDF continues its pullback around Palestinian areas. The Palestinian Authority was to begin confiscating illegal arms.

On Sunday, IDF troops will redeploy from sensitive areas and create buffer zones.

If the cease-fire holds, the two sides will next week start a formal, six-week cooling-off period.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority will then begin embarking on a series of confidence-building measures that were proposed last month by an international commission led by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.

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