P.A. Pledges to Reform Security, but Israeli Officials Are Skeptical

The Palestinian Authority appears to be on the verge of a long-awaited security reform in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But Sunday’s announcement of a plan to incorporate the Al-Aksa Brigade into the Palestinian Authority police still falls far short of the comprehensive crackdown on terrorism required by the U.S.-led “road map” for peace.

And with four Palestinians killed over the weekend by Israeli forces in the West Bank, hopes of Israel’s Gaza pullout spurring peacemaking could prove short-lived.

“We have agreed today to establish five new camps for training and hosting the ‘stragglers,’ ” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei told reporters, referring to the fragmented forces of the Al-Aksa Brigade.

Qurei said the effort would begin in Ramallah and in Nablus, one of the most volatile West Bank cities.

Palestinian Authority officials said the brigade, a terrorist group linked to the P.A.’s dominant Fatah faction, would be reined in within weeks.

But it was unclear whether Abbas will be able to carry out this plan, which makes no provision for disarming and dismantling far more powerful Islamist terrorist groups led by Hamas.

Israel took a wait-and-see attitude.

“We have heard this sort of declaration before. The time has come for action,” said one Jerusalem official.

Palestinian security forces have been weakened by Israeli attacks and by internal divisions, and militias

such as Al-Aksa have stepped in to fill much of the void.

With Hamas set on taking part in Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections in January, an armed confrontation between its gunmen and Fatah is increasingly unlikely.

There is quiet hope building that Palestinian moderates will win out over the Islamist extremists in the landmark poll.

Israeli officials have backed off from the suggestion, made last month by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, that the election might be hindered to block Hamas’ participation.

“It is not in Israel’s interest,” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Israel Radio.

Meanwhile, the sporadic violence that has plagued the West Bank since Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip continued.

Undercover commandos killed a wanted terrorist in an exchange of fire at his Tulkarm hideout Sunday.

The death came after soldiers killed a Palestinian suspected of planting a mine on a road outside Ramallah on Saturday.

Although it turned out that his bag contained only rocks, security sources said the Palestinian put it by the roadside to test the armýs alertness ahead of a planned bomb attack. Last Friday, soldiers killed two Palestinians who attacked their units.

One was a fire-bomber shot near Bethlehem, the other, a gunman from Tulkarm. The army also arrested at least 11 suspected West Bank terrorists over the weekend.

NEXT STORY