New Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas ordered the deployment after a meeting on Wednesday night between Israeli and Palestinian generals, convened in a last-ditch effort to avert an Israeli military offensive in Gaza. 

The meeting signalled that Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are succeeding in defusing their first crisis, although the situation remains volatile.

In the security meeting late on Wednesday, Palestinian generals presented a plan for stopping rocket fire and infiltrations by Palestinian fighters into Israel. 

"We told them [Israeli generals] that we are arranging a plan to deploy the Palestinian security forces into both the northern and southern parts of Gaza," Major-General Musa Arafat, a Palestinian security chief, said.

"In the first stage, it will be in the north, and then we will move into the south." 

Forces within days

Top Palestinian security commander Lieutenant-General Abd al-Razik Majaidi told the Voice of Palestine Radio station that the forces would fan out within two days. 

"We are waiting to see how effective they will be"

Israeli security official

Israeli occupation officials said up to 1000 Palestinian officers would be deployed, perhaps as early as Thursday, and that Israel accepted the plan.

"We are facilitating and coordinating [the plan], so it will go forward," an Israeli security official said. "We are waiting to see how effective they will be." 

Palestinian security officials said in the past they were reluctant to deploy officers in areas from which rockets were launched for fear the police officers would be targeted by Israeli troops. 

Border reopened

Meanwhile, Israel agreed to reopen the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt from Friday after a six-week closure, a senior Palestinian security source said.  

More than 30 vehicles took part
in raids in Alar and Sayda

"The Israeli army will reopen the Rafah crossing for Palestinians [on the Egyptian side] to enter Gaza tomorrow. After this it will be opened for all Palestinians on both sides," the source said on Thursday after attending talks on Wednesday night with Israeli counterparts. 

An Israeli military source confirmed that the border would be reopened "in the coming days".

The border has been closed since a 12 December attack on an army post in Rafah that left five Israeli soldiers dead. 

Overnight raid

Separately, Aljazeera's correspondent in the West Bank reported that Israeli forces stormed the towns of Alar and Sayda north of the West Bank city of Tul Karam overnight on Wednesday.

More than 30 military vehicles participated in the raid, the correspondent said.

Israeli forces raided houses of wanted Palestinians allegedly from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Islamic Jihad.

The Israeli forces detained a number of Sayda residents, he added.