Speaking on Friday Ghassan al-Khatib, Palestinian Labour Minister, told Aljazeera: “We have to remember that violence is a result of the conflict, but not a reason for it. If the Israeli occupation continues, the violent conflict will then return.”
Al-Khatib made his comments as Palestinian security forces widened their control in the Gaza Strip on Friday under orders from President Mahmud Abbas to prevent attacks on Israelis in another important move towards reviving peace talks.
But in a sign of challenges ahead for Abbas, Hamas won seats in seven of the 10 councils in the first-ever municipal elections held in the Gaza Strip; including seats in the three largest councils: Bait Hanun, Dair al-Balah and Bani Sayla, Laila el-Haddad, Aljazeera’s Gaza correspondent, reported.
Hamas won 76 out of the 118 seats, a step that could be seen as a test of strength between the resistance group and the new leader.
Voter turnout was estimated to be over 80%, el-Haddad said.
A Hamas leader in Gaza, Mahmud al-Zahaar, said the election results send a clear message.
“The change Palestinians look for can only be achieved by running fair and free elections,” he said. “Palestinians have confidence in the future, which will witness a reform and rebuilding of what has been destroyed by the Israeli occupation.”
Building on a northern Gaza deployment a week ago, about 2000 Palestinian paramilitary police began to fan out across the southern part of the territory, turning back the clock to the days of security cooperation and peacemaking with Israel.
Some Palestinian forces have
Some of the uniformed men, armed with assault rifles, took up positions between Jewish settlements on occupied land, often hit by mortar fire and rockets launched by fighters, and Palestinian towns.
Others were headed to Gaza‘s border with Egypt, where Israel has conducted punishing raids in Palestinian residential areas to root out weapons-smuggling tunnels and fighters.
Wail al-Dahduh, Aljazeera’s correspondent in Palestine, said the operation has so far been carried out according to the agreement of both sides.
On Friday Palestinian forces, travelling in vehicles and buses, started their military movements from two points; from Dair al-Balah, to be deployed in central Gaza Strip, and from Khan Yunus, to be deployed in southern Gaza Strip, al-Dahduh reported.
Al-Dahduh reported Palestinian citizens feel comfortable with the steps being taken. He said they now feel safe when they approach the areas they had been prevented from visiting because of Israeli attacks.
Israel announced an end to offensive operations in Gaza after the Palestinian forces deployed.
The cessation of offensive actions in Gaza was announced by army chief of staff Moshe Yaalon, who also ordered that any operations targeting West Bank resistance groups would have to be approved by him.
“Proactive IDF (army) operations in the Gaza Strip will cease in the areas in which Palestinian security forces have redeployed and in which terror activities against Israeli civilians and IDF forces have been stopped,” he said.
Over the past week, violence has dropped sharply in the Gaza Strip, where Abbas is trying to arrange a ceasefire in the run-up to a planned Israeli withdrawal this summer.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Thursday conditions were right for a “historic breakthrough” on peace after measures taken by Abbas to bring calm.
But Al-Khatib said: “We can not take Sharon‘s announcements seriously until they turn into actions.
“We are still waiting for some specific issues. The road map, particularly its first stage that Sharon has mentioned, indicates that Israel should halt all its settlement activities. This is our main issue right now.
Halt Israeli settlement
“If progress has been achieved concerning the halt of Israeli settlement activities, this means Israel is responding positively to the Palestinian step.
“The first stage of the road map is clear and states that both sides have commitments to carry out”
“The other main issues we are waiting for are; cancelling restrictions on Palestinians’ movement, and ending the Israeli raids and assassinations,” al-Khatib said.
“The first stage of the road map is clear and states that both sides have commitments to carry out,” he said.
“The Palestinian side has to continue the reforms, maintain security and halt military activities against Israel. On the other hand, Israel should halt its settlements activities, end its violence and withdraw from the Palestinian Authority ruled areas,” he added.
Al-Khatib said as Palestinians have started with ending violent actions it was now Israel‘s turn to carry out its share of commitments.
“If Israel sticks to its commitments, then we are going in the right path,” he added.
Bush praises Abbas
President George Bush, in an interview published on Friday in The New York Times, said Abbas has shown strength in the early phases of his administration.
“He is sending assurances that he will put a 100% effort into protecting the people on both sides of the issue from terrorists. And to me, that’s an impressive start,” Bush said.
In a sign of a new US push for peace after Yasir Arafat’s death, officials said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would visit the region early next month on the first trip of her new job.