- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2005

EREZ CHECKPOINT, Gaza Strip — About 3,000 armed Palestinian police were deployed across the northern Gaza Strip yesterday to prevent rocket fire on Israeli communities, raising hope that the two sides have found a way to end more than four years of bloody conflict and resume peace talks.

The deployment, with officers patrolling in shiny new pickup trucks, came after Israel and the Palestinians renewed security coordination earlier this week. In parallel, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is negotiating with armed groups to win their commitment to a cease-fire, and his associates said he is making progress.

About 3,000 members of the Palestinian security forces took up positions in northern Gaza yesterday, security officials said. Additional forces were to deploy in the southern half of the strip by tomorrow.

After the outbreak of fighting in 2000, Palestinian police had increasingly stayed off the streets, for fear of being targeted by Israeli troops.

The Islamist militant group Hamas indicated it is suspending rocket attacks while negotiations continue. “One can’t be negotiating and firing rockets at the same time. It just doesn’t work,” Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri said.

He also said the talks are moving in a “positive direction.”

The militant groups have not yet committed to a cease-fire. “I don’t know how soon we shall have results,” Mr. Abbas told reporters yesterday. Israel’s deputy defense minister, Zeev Boim, said Israel would respond with “great force” to renewed Palestinian rocket fire.

In Israel, a 17-year-old girl from the town of Sderot near Gaza died yesterday of injuries she sustained in a Palestinian rocket attack last week. Militants have not fired rockets since Wednesday.

In the troop deployment, officers fanned out across northern Gaza. Near the Erez crossing with Israel, 10 policemen in green uniforms and carrying assault rifles checked vehicles heading to nearby Israeli positions.

From the northern town of Beit Lahiya, a frequent rocket-launching area, about five dozen members of Palestinian military intelligence, wearing red berets, set out on patrol in new pickup trucks.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent messages to Mr. Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, expressing hope for peace in the region.

In a further sign of easing tensions, the army yesterday opened the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border, the Palestinians’ only link to the Arab world, to incoming traffic. The crossing has been closed since a Dec. 12 attack on the Israeli military post there killed five soldiers.

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