July 2, 2003
Terror alert in Sharon region; PA takes over in Bethlehem
By Roni Singer and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents
Israeli security forces were placed on high alert Wednesday
afternoon following a terrorist infiltration along the Green Line
border, in the Sharon region.
Large numbers of security forces have been deployed to the area
in an effort to locate the terrorist. Roadblocks huave been set
up around the towns of Kfar Sava, Rosh Ha'ayin and Petah Tikva,
causing major traffic jams. Every individual entering or leaving
these towns is subject to a search.
The alert came less than an hour after Israel transfered
security control in the West Bank city of Bethlehem to the
Palestinian Authority on Wednesday, days after the PA assumed
control in the Gaza Strip, as part of the
internationally-brokered road map to Middle East peace.
Palestinian police officers took to the streets of the city soon
afterwards, to applause from local residents, as well as
deploying in the neighboring towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahur.
The IDF began pulling its troops out of Bethlehem lunchtime
Wednesday, in anticipation of the handover, Israel Radio said.
The troops will, however, maintain positions around the city.
Israel Radio quoted a senior Palestinian police officer in
Bethlehem as saying that his forces were starting at zero because
they have only four vehicles available to them, after the IDF
confiscated or destroyed 52 others.
Details of the transfer were finalized Tuesday at a meeting
between senior security officials from both sides.
No major disagreements emerged during the meeting, which was
headed on the Israeli side by the IDF's commander in the West
Bank, Brigadier General Gadi Eisencott, and on the Palestinian
side by General Haj Ismail, the commander of the National
Security Service in the West Bank.
However, Israel did reject one Palestinian request: that Route
60, the West Bank's main north-south artery, which runs from
Hebron in the south through Bethlehem and eventually north to
Nablus, be reopened to Palestinian traffic.
Top IDF officer: intifada may soon be over A senior Israel
Defense Forces said Wednesday that the end of the intifada may be
near and it will signal a victory for Israel. The top-ranking
officer said that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is
serious about the measures he is taken and understands that
terrorism is a mistake, Israel Radio reported.
He added that he hopes that the Palestinians will put a stop to
almost all terror attacks. The IDF has already started to reduce
its presence in the territories, he added, and has released a
number of reserve battalions from duty.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the weekly cabinet meeting
Wednesday that the coming weeks will be critical and the defense
establishment is closely following whether the Palestinians are
fulfilling their part of the agreements.
An Israeli security guard was lightly injured Wednesday morning
in a shooting attack on workers building the security fence close
to the West Bank town of Tul Karm. A bomb also exploded close to
the fence near the town of Qalqilyah while a Palestinian opened
fire on IDF troops in Nablus; no one was injured in either
Also Wednesday morning, IDF troops arrested six wanted
Palestinians in a number of West Bank towns. Four of the men
arrested are wanted by the IDF for alleged involvement in
terrorist activities while two others were brought in for
The transfer of authority in Bethlehem will not require a major
redeployment of IDF troops, since the army has no fixed presence
in Bethlehem. However, the move will prevent the IDF from
entering the city to arrest wanted men, which it has done freely
until now. Israel will continue to control the area around
Rachel's Tomb, as stipulated in the Oslo Accords.
Yedioth Ahronoth's ynet Internet site quoted Palestinian sources
Wednesday as saying that Israel could pull out of the West Bank
city of Ramallah, to which PA Chairman Yasser Arafat has been
confined for over a year, as early as next week.
PA Information Minister Nabil Amar told the Voice of Palestine
radio station Wednesday morning that the Palestinians are ready
to take over in any area from which Israel withdraws in the near
future. He also said that Palestinian Security Minister Mohammed
Dahlan may meet with Mofaz in the coming days.
In Gaza, the transfer of authority that began Monday has yet to
run into any major hitches. Although there have been occasional
shooting incidents - including three directed at IDF outposts in
the Gush Katif settlement bloc Tuesday and an attempt to fire a
mortar at settlements in the area - there have been no conflicts
involving Palestinian traffic on roads there. The Palestinians
have been gradually deploying through the territory handed over
to them, and are preparing to reopen the Tiska'ot Road, east of
the settlement of Kfar Darom.