JERUSALEM, AP – At the first meeting of Israeli and Palestinian field commanders to coordinate this summer”s pullout from the Gaza Strip, Israel warned that it will not allow violence to hinder the operation and would attack militants if necessary.
The session late Tuesday in Tel Aviv was the first in a series of talks to arrange an orderly handover of the crowded seaside strip. Originally, Israel presented the "disengagement" as a unilateral step, but with the succession of Mahmoud Abbas to power, replacing Yasser Arafat, Israel changed its policy.
After the two-hour session, the Israeli military released a statement saying, "The meeting was held in a positive atmosphere. Both sides agreed to continue the meetings to coordinate the disengagement," the Israeli term for the pullout.
The Israeli statement said the deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinski, warned Israel "will not allow terror attacks to interfere with the disengagement." Also, it said the Israeli military would undertake "pinpoint" actions in Gaza to stop attacks if the Palestinian Authority fails to act.
No Palestinian comment was immediately available. The Palestinian team was led by deputy Interior Minister Jamal Abu-Zihad.
Also, White House official Elliot Abrams was arriving to help plan for the upcoming visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, a key mediator in the conflict, was expected to meet with Israeli officials Wednesday.
Earlier Tuesday, the Israeli military chief, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, said the job of unarmed troops forcibly evacuating settlers while trying to defend against Palestinian fire would be complex and dangerous.
In that situation, the army would have to suspend the pullout and fight the militants before it could proceed with the withdrawal, he said.
"I don”t see how technically we can do both things at once," Halutz said. "There won”t be disengagement under fire."
However, he did not specify how much violence Israel would be willing to absorb before stopping the pullout to attack the militants.
"(It) depends on how much fire, what kind of fire, where the fire is. But in principle, there can be no fire," he said. "We will have to deal with it, defeat it and then continue with the operation."
Halutz emphasized that the military would carry out the withdrawal, unless the government changes its decision in favor of the disengagement plan.
The pullout, involving evacuation of all 21 Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and four from the West Bank, is set to start in mid-August. It would be the first time Israel evacuated settlements from those territories, and settlers are hotly opposed, pledging resistance. Though settler leaders say it will be nonviolent, security officials have been warning that extremists could open fire on soldiers and police.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia threatened to halt government functions if chaos in the Palestinian areas is not ended.
"There are violations, especially by members of the security forces themselves. This is not acceptable. and the citizen can no longer live with this chaos," he said. "If no limits are placed on the deterioration in the security situation, the government will suspend its responsibilities."
Qureia said the execution of four criminals on Sunday was part of the process of restoring order.
During four years of Palestinian-Israeli violence, Palestinian security forces have lost control of the streets. Abbas has been working to combine more than a dozen competing and overlapping services into an efficient police force.