- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli and Palestinian leaders met yesterday to discuss ways to stop militants from firing rockets and mortars in Gaza, heading off the possibility of a large-scale Israeli invasion to curb the surging violence.

The decision came as the top Palestinian security chief ordered a deployment of troops along the Gaza-Israel frontier to stop rocket and mortar attacks — the first concrete steps to rein in militants since the election of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel broke off contacts with Mr. Abbas’ government after a Jan. 13 attack on a vital Gaza-Israel crossing point killed six Israelis. But the ban came under criticism from the United States, the United Nations, Egypt and Jordan — and it lasted only a few days.

After a meeting of his security Cabinet yesterday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office issued a statement saying “a security meeting will be held at the field commander level to coordinate security steps.”

Israeli officials said the meeting convened at the Erez crossing between northern Gaza and Israel. Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, representing the Israelis, met Palestinian public security director Maj. Gen. Moussa Arafat. Israel Army Radio reported that Gen. Arafat presented a detailed plan to deploy hundreds of armed police in the border area to halt the rocket fire, and Gen. Kochavi was to deliver it to Israel’s defense minister.

Israel’s security Cabinet was considering military action to stop the barrages of mortars and rockets aimed at Jewish settlements and Israeli towns just outside Gaza, when the Palestinian leadership called for security talks toward cooperation in ending the violence, officials said.

The appeal, coupled with the decision by the Palestinian police commander to deploy forces along the border to stop the rocket attacks, was enough for Israel’s new, more moderate government to put off a military strike and give renewed talks a chance.

Mr. Sharon brought the dovish Labor Party into his coalition government to provide crucial backing for his Gaza pullout plan.

The security Cabinet also approved military action if talks fail. Mr. Sharon noted both options yesterday.

“Israel is prepared to cooperate with the Palestinians on condition that there is no terrorism,” Mr. Sharon said in a meeting with a top EU official, according to a statement from his office. “If the Palestinians take the right steps, we will be able to cooperate and coordinate on certain matters regarding the disengagement plan.”

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