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Last Updated: Friday, 21 January, 2005, 15:50 GMT
Q&A: Gaza police deployment
Policeman in Gaza
Palestinian police are expected to deploy across the entire Gaza Strip
As Palestinian Authority security forces deploy in the Gaza Strip to try to rein in the militant groups, BBC World Service Arab affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi looks at the key issues.

Why is the deployment happening now?

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is under tremendous pressure from the Israelis to stop the violence after militants killed six Israelis on a border crossing point last week. The attack happened just days after he was elected as the new leader of the Palestinian Authority.

He made the renunciation of violence a central issue of his campaign to be elected. Should he fail to rein in the militants as soon as reasonably possible, Israel has made it clear that it is prepared to launch a major offensive in the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli attack would be a serious blow to Mr Abbas's efforts to persuade the militants to lay down their arms so that he can resume peace talks with the Israelis. The militants insist there can no be talks as long as attacks on them by the Israeli army continue.

Mr Abbas, seen as a moderate among Palestinian leaders, has for a long time argued that use of violence by Palestinian factions, or what is described as the militarisation of the intifada, has done more harm to the Palestinians than the militants and their supporters will admit.

To win this argument, he needs to reduce the ,general level of violence. To convince the Israeli army to hold back, he needs to rein in the militants.

How extensive is this deployment?

On Friday 21 January, hundreds of Palestinian Authority police began taking up positions in the northern Gaza Strip, in the border towns of Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun.

The priority seemed to be to stop rocket attacks on Sderot, an Israeli town just inside Israel. The orders are for up to 3,000 men to be moved into the border areas.

Palestinian forces were also deployed to search cars for weapons near to the Eretz crossing with Israel.

Further police are expected to be deployed in the centre and south of Gaza by Sunday.

Are the Palestinian Authority security forces in any shape to actually impose a clampdown on the militants and enforce Mr Abbas's will?

The security forces are largely controlled by Mr Abbas's organisation, Fatah, which stands firmly behind him. That should, at least theoretically, guarantee that the police on the ground will obey orders.

Despite the fact that some of the Palestinian Authority's security infrastructure was destroyed by the Israelis during the intifada, there are enough staff with sufficient weapons to confront the militants, if they ever have to.

The question is whether all members of the security forces are fully convinced that it is the right thing to do.

Militants from Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, which is an offshoot from Fatah, are viewed by many Palestinians as heroes who pay with their own lives to defend the Palestinians and fight for independence.

It must be part of Mr Abbas's calculation that a serious of widespread confrontation with the militants will be avoided as it is no one's interest.

What's the latest on talks between Mr Abbas and the militant groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, on a ceasefire?

Despite positive statements from both sides to the effect that progress has been made, the crux of the talks, a declaration of a ceasefire, remains elusive.

The position of Hamas and Islamic Jihad is that they will hold their fire only if the Israelis do the same.

However, the Israeli and Palestinian press carry reports that Hamas and Fatah are closer than ever to an historic agreement. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Hamas is, for the first time in its history, prepared to accept in principle a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital, thus renouncing its claim to the whole of Israel and the occupied territories.

This would mark a dramatic rapprochement with Mr Abbas's organisation, Fatah, and may pave the way for the transformation of Hamas from a militant organisation into a mainstream political party.

The Palestinian press is also talking of an imminent landmark agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas over wide-ranging political and economic reforms. If these reports are true, then the prospects of an official ceasefire may be good.

Palestinians often characterise a clampdown on militants by the Palestinian Authority as a recipe for civil war. Is this likely?

As pressure mounted on the Palestinian Authority to carry out reforms and crack down on militants over the past two years, Palestinians have been wary of the risk of a civil war.

All the elements for such conflict are there - the weapons are widely available and many of the factions made up of angry young men; not to mention unemployment, poverty and despair.

But decades of suffering have also created a strong and cohesive community.

This cohesion alongside with high level of awareness among the Palestinians that armed internecine conflict will benefit only their enemies, ie the Israelis, is probably their best hope that they will not turn their weapons against each other.




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