Jerusalem talks focus on security

Ehud Barak due to hold face-to-face meeting with Palestinian prime minister.

    Barak, left, has rejected Palestinian calls
    to remove West Bank checkpoints [AFP]

    Barak also plans to grant thousands of permits for Palestinian labourers to work in Israel, the Associated Press reported defence officials as saying.
     
    Barak has made similar pledges in the past without taking action.
     
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    On Tuesday, Barak said he would "allow" the deployment of up to 600 Palestinian police officers to Jenin as part of an agreement to help the Palestinian government improve security.
     
    The force will be responsible for law and order, while Israel will maintain military control.
     
    The Palestinian interior ministry reacted angrily, saying it was not up to Israel to dictate where its security forces were deployed, while the Palestinian populace remained secptical, as similiar deployments have not prevented Israel from carrying out regular raids and assassinations.
     
    The move would be similar to that of 700 policemen deployed to Nablus last year.
     
    Reporting from Nablus, Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera's correspondent, said: "If you ask people here, they do not feel any safer now than they did when Israel was in full physical control of the city - because nearly every night there is a new Israeli raid."
     
    One Palestinian woman in Balata Refugee camp, which is adjacent to Nablus, told Al Jazeera that the promise of security from increased Palestinian forces was a non-starter.
     
    "When Barak wants he sends in his troops and all we can do is hide and our leaders and police do the same," she said.
     
    The officers ear-marked for Jenin have been receiving special training in neighbouring Jordan since January under a programme funded by the US.
     
    US officials said the men are not expected to return to the occupied West Bank until June.
     
    Jenin residents sceptical
     
    In Jenin, many residents told Al Jazeera they were had little faith in the Israeli offer. One man, a taxi driver, said Israel was not interested in security.
     
    "Even if they brought thousands of Palestinian soldiers ... Israel would sabotage every initiative," he said.
     
    The Jennin forces, the Jerusalem Post reported, would maintain order during the day, while the Israeli army would continue to patrol during the night.
     
    Israel maintains that the offer will help the peace efforts by strengthening Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in facing rival faction Hamas.
     
    But Palestinian officials say the Israeli moves are not enough.
     
    Abbas told reporters in the West Bank town of Ramallah: "There are many obstacles. Our hope is that these obstacles will be removed."
     
    He said that he remained committed to the goal of reaching a peace deal by the end of the year.
     
    Checkpoints
     
    On Monday, Barak rejected a key Palestinian demand, saying Israel would not remove any of the hundreds of West Bank checkpoints.
     
    The Palestinians and many officials around the world including Tony Blair, now a Middle East envoy, have said the travel restrictions are stifling the West Bank economy.
     
    Israel says the measures are needed to prevent attacks.
     
    Across Gaza and the West Bank on Wednesday, three rallies took place, woth demonstrators calling for Palestinians to stop fighting and unite.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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