Abbas gov’t, Israel resume security talks

Israel and the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas have resumed security talks after a long break, both sides said Tuesday, a new sign of cooperation between Israel and Palestinian moderates after the Islamic Hamas took over Gaza.In a parallel crackdown on Hamas, security forces loyal to Abbas have taken dozens into custody and Israel has also made arrests, underlining their common interest in preventing a Hamas takeover of the West Bank. Israeli and Palestinian security officials met in an undisclosed location on Monday to “talk about how to move forward with security cooperation”,  Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, told the Associated Press. Eisin characterised the renewed talks as a first step and said the sides were not exchanging names of wanted fighters or coordinating arrests.

Israeli security officials played down the development, saying that meetings between officers of the two sides continued throughout the period after Hamas took control of the Palestinian government, in March last year. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity according to security rules, said the recent meetings were on the same level as the previous ones — area commanders. Palestinian officials said the latest meeting was one in a series of contacts in recent weeks. The Palestinians asked Israel to ease restrictions on movement within the West Bank and to stop going after gunmen loyal to Abbas, but Israel gave no assurances, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, accused Abbas of being an Israeli collaborator. The meetings, Abu Zuhri said, “render the [Palestinian] security agencies tools in the hands of Israeli intelligence”.  Abbas expelled Hamas from the Palestinian government after its Gaza takeover. Israel and the West responded by renewing ties with the new, more moderate Palestinian government, ending a punishing aid boycott.

Israelis and Palestinians held similar security contacts in the 1990s, under terms of interim peace accords, but they were cut off after Israeli-Palestinian violence erupted in late 2000. They took place only sporadically in the years that followed.

Hamas is considered a terror group by Israel, the US and the European Union. It rejects the existence of a Jewish state and has been responsible for killing hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks.

In the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday afternoon, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian teenager who was playing with a toy rifle, witnesses said. The Israeli military said soldiers opened fire on Palestinians they thought were holding weapons, but found the toy rifle next to the body.

The common anti-Hamas strategies of Israel and the new Fateh-allied government in the West Bank were clearly seen this week.

On Monday morning, Israel’s Shin Bet security service announced it had arrested 11 Hamas fighters in Jerusalem over a period of months, charging them with channeling funds from abroad and laying the groundwork for a “pool” of recruits.

That afternoon, pro-Fateh Palestinian security officers arrested four more Hamas activists, including a former lawmaker, in the West Bank city of Nablus.

The lawmaker was later released, but dozens of Hamas fighters remain detained by security forces loyal to Abbas in the West Bank, Palestinian security officials said.

Col. Maher Dwaikat, head of the Fateh-linked Palestinian Preventive Security in the West Bank town of Ramallah, said his officers had instructions to arrest armed members of Hamas, releasing some after confiscating their weapons and leaving others in custody.

“All of our efforts now are to prevent Hamas from carrying out another military coup in the West Bank,” Dwaikat said, referring to the Hamas takeover of Gaza.

But Israel’s interests and those of Abbas’ government don’t entirely coincide. Israel has continued pursuing Fateh gunmen — who nominally owe loyalty to Abbas — with raids like one in the town of Nablus last week, which left one Fateh man dead.

Dwaikat charged that Israel’s moves against Fateh got in the way of efforts to fight Hamas.

Eisin said Israel will not restrict its military operations to Hamas and will continue to pursue “people who are actively planning, assisting, or executing terror acts” from all organisations, including Fateh.

With the resumption of foreign aid and tax transfers from Israel, Abbas’ government said this week that tens of thousands of civil servants will get full salaries for the first time in more than a year by Wednesday — except for Gaza employees who are cooperating with Hamas.

That drew angry retorts from Hamas and a protest of several hundred government workers Tuesday in Gaza City.

“No one can give one person a salary and not the other.

“This is the Palestinian people’s money,” Hamas lawmaker Ahmed Bahr said at the rally.

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