Israel pulls troops for Palestinian vote

Israeli troops will stay away from Palestinian towns in the West Bank for three days to avoid interfering in the Palestinian parliamentary election, an Israeli military official has said.

    Troops will avoid West Bank towns except in 'urgent cases'

    Speaking to Reuters the unnamed source confirmed Israeli media reports that the army would avoid staging military raids "except in cases of ticking bombs" or an intelligence tip of an imminent attack, and would avoid entry into Palestinian cities.

     

    "The Israeli army will reduce its activity (in the West Bank) except for urgent cases," the source said.

     

    Israeli and Palestinian security officials have named a team to coordinate activities through the balloting, Israeli radio said.

     

    Israeli forces have also been instructed to permit free passage of Palestinian election vehicles through Israeli military checkpoints in the West Bank under a new mode of deployment dubbed "Operation White Winter," Maariv said.

     

    Both Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs had said on Sunday that their forces would be on heightened alert in case of an escalation of violence that could disrupt Wednesday's ballot.

     

    But Israel has also taken measures to avoid the appearance of interfering in the internationally sanctioned election.

     

    At the same time Israel's Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, standing in for Ariel Sharon who was incapacitated by a stroke on January 4, has had contingency plans drawn up for the possibility that the Islamic militant group Hamas wins enough votes to merit joining the Palestinian government.

     

    Israel has refused any dialogue with Hamas, a group behind dozens of suicide bomb attacks against Israelis during a more than five year Palestinian uprising.

     

    Opinion polls show Hamas just behind Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's dominant Fatah movement.

     

    Hamas has gained popularity largely for its charity work in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and corruption-free image.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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