Israel's military pulls out of N. Gaza

Special to World
Monday, June 30, 2003

GAZA CITY Israel's military has pulled out of most Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the Gaza Strip.

Troops, tanks, armored vehicles and other military assets were pulled out of several areas of the Gaza Strip. The most significant movement was the Israeli withdrawal from the northern Gaza Strip, employed by Palestinian insurgents as a launching pad for missile strikes against Israel.

The pullout also ended the Israeli military presence along the highway that moves from south to north in the Gaza Strip. The road passes several Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip, and the Israeli withdrawal has prompted protests from Israeli residents in the area. PA forces established two temporary positions near the Israeli community of Netsarim outside Gaza City. The PA has pledged to stop missile and mortar attacks on Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli withdrawal, which came amid Palestinian mortar and automatic fire, was the most significant redeployment of troops since April 2002 when the military captured Palestinian cities in the West Bank. The current U.S.-sponsored plan includes an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank city of Bethlehem later this week.

Israel has agreed to resume security cooperation with the PA as part of a plan that includes Israeli military withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. Officials said the PA forwarded information on a Palestinian suicide bomber last week that prevented an attack in an Israeli city. Two members of the insurgency squad were arrested by PA General Intelligence and a third was captured in Israel.

On Sunday, Hamas and Islamic Jihad declared a three-month ceasefire. In a joint statement, the two organizations imposed a series of conditions including the termination of military operations, release of all Palestinian prisoners and the lifting of the siege of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat.

"In the event that the enemy does not heed these conditions and commitments, or breaches any of them, we see ourselves unencumbered by this initiative and we hold the enemy responsible for the consequences," the Hamas and Jihad statement said.

For its part, Fatah declared a six-month ceasefire. The ruling Palestinian movement led by Arafat did not impose conditions. The Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said it would not abide by the ceasefire.

The truce does not include an Israeli and U.S. demand for insurgents to surrender their weapons. The groups pledged they would not disarm until Israel withdraws from the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"Those who think that the roadmap plan means disarming Palestinian factions are mistaken," Col. Rashid Abu Shback, deputy director of the PA Preventive Security Apparatus in the Gaza Strip,said.

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