JERUSALEM, (AFP) — The number of Israeli troops operating in the occupied West Bank is at its lowest level in more than 20 years, an Israeli newspaper reported on Sunday.
Since the start of the first intifada, or Palestinian uprising in 1987, dozens of regular and reserve battalions have been deployed throughout the West Bank, the paper said.
Although the numbers of troops deployed there fell in the early 1990s with the signing of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, they rose sharply following the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000.
As the frenzy of suicide bombings and Israeli army raids gradually started to ease in 2005, the number of battalions stationed in the West Bank “has dropped steadily,” the paper said.
However, there has been no reduction in the number of troops dedicated to surveillance, intelligence gathering and special operations, it added.
The army, which never comments on troop numbers, had no immediate comment on the report.
Military officials at the army’s Central Command attributed the fall in numbers to the improved “preemptive capabilities” of the army and the Shin Bet internal security services.
The report comes just weeks after the army said its list of West Bankers wanted for attacks against Israelis has dwindled to almost zero.
Haaretz, which revealed the story, quoted security officials as saying the shrinkage was the result of growing security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.