Israel has given its approval for the deployment of hundreds of armed Palestinian Authority police in all West Bank cities to crack down on crime. According to senior Israeli defense officials, the move is intended to strengthen the PA ahead of the transfer of additional cities to Palestinian control.

So far, Jericho and Tul Karm have been transferred to Palestinian control, with Israel conditioning the transfer of additional cities on the monitoring of wanted men and the confiscation of weapons.

The personnel, who must be in uniform, are authorized to carry rifles in all cities except Hebron, where they will be limited to small arms.

Meanwhile, the PA Interior Ministry has begun to collect weapons from wanted Fatah members in Jericho and Tul Karm. The men, most of whom had served in the Palestinian police or security branches, have begun to report to their units and sign declarations promising they would not become involved in terrorism or the sale of weapons or ammunition, and that they would accept the authority of their superiors. They also pledged not to erase serial numbers on the weapons, which Israel has in its records.

Between five and ten men reportedly turned in their weapons in Tul Karm out of a list of 50 wanted men. Forty-seven of the 50 have signed pledges not to be involved in terror.

A Palestinian source said 17 wanted men in Jericho had also signed the pledge. None are from Hamas or Islamic Jihad. According to the agreement between these organizations and the PA that led to the present calm, it will not collect their weapons.

"There are no scenes of piles of weapons brought in by wanted men, but rather the acceptance of the wanted men, with their weapons, into the Palestinian police," a Palestinian source said.

The arming of the PA police is proceeding although the Israel Defense Forces continues to enter the cities to arrest terror suspects. Israel has told the PA that when the IDF enters a city, the police should keep to their bases, and warned that it will not tolerate the use of the weapons against its forces. IDF soldiers have been issued special rules of engagement to avoid hitting armed Palestinian police.

"We have no illusions that [the Palestinian police] will prevent terror," an IDF source said. "Therefore, we are continuing to operate in the cities as necessary. But an armed presence brings back some law and order, and deters some of the armed gangs, and that is also important," a senior source said.

The IDF said that although the PA has only partially complied with its road map obligations, terrorism has clearly declined in the West Bank.