Officials at odds over the release of Palestinians
Certain defense officials are objecting to the defense establishment's plan to release hundreds of Palestinian detainees, claiming that it would obstruct the fight against terrorism.
Certain defense officials are objecting to the defense establishment's plan to release hundreds of Palestinian detainees, claiming that it would obstruct the fight against terrorism. The officials also say that such a move would be unwise prior to the establishment of the new Palestinian cabinet under Abu Mazen.
Last night, the Palestinian Authority prime minister-designate stormed out of a meeting on the formation of the cabinet at PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's Ramallah headquarters.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has asked the Shin Bet security service and Israel Defense Forces for a list of detainees slated for release within a month or two, with the intention of releasing many of them as a goodwill gesture following Abu Mazen's appointment as prime minister and the expected talks with the Palestinians over the road map.
However, the list has not been prepared due to the sharp objection of defense officials, who say that releasing even some of the detainees will provide incentive to members of terrorist organizations who are still free.
More than 5,000 Palestinian administrative detainees - who have not been charged or tried - and prisoners are incarcerated in IDF and Shin Bet prison compounds. Most of them have been arrested during the present intifada. One of the reasons for releasing hundreds of them stems from the overcrowded conditions in the prisons.
Mofaz plans to hold a debate this week on another issue related to the road map - the illegal settler outposts in the territories.
Israel will suggest that the northern sections of the Gaza Strip be the first to be taken over by the Palestinians' security forces. The area was chosen mainly because the Palestinian security mechanisms there have been damaged to a lesser extent than in the West Bank. The IDF also thinks the fence surrounding the strip reduces the risk of attacks from there.
The main threat from the north of the Strip comes in the form of Qassam rockets, a far lesser danger than terrorist attacks from the West Bank. The north of the strip is also considered, traditionally, as the power base of Mohammed Dahlan, who Israel considers a crucial figure in Abu Mazen's success in fighting terror.
The IDF's Central Command is making preparations to alleviate the plight of the Palestinian population, which has been under prolonged closure, in response to the United States' request for goodwill gestures in anticipation of implementing the road map.
The IDF is planning, when the time is right, to remove some of the road barriers around the cities to enable movement and traffic between them. The command is considering opening certain roads to Palestinians only, to reduce the risk to Israeli vehicles.
Another idea the army has raised involves the resumption of Palestinian public transport between the cities, since it is easier to supervise public vehicles than private ones.
However, despite the approaching talks on the road map, the ground forces in the territories have not received any instructions yet. On the contrary, senior military sources said recently that the IDF is in a "race against time" to capture as many members of Palestinian organizations or suspected of being terror activists before the army's movements are curtailed.
At the end of last week, security forces arrested three paramilitaries suspected of planning a suicide attack in Israel, as well as two others suspected of recruiting suicide bombers.