GAZA CITY (AFP) – Hundreds of members of Palestinian forces fanned out in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, launching the first phase of a flagship security plan seeking to restore order in the lawless territory.
“The first stage of the plan began at dawn with hundreds of members of the Palestinian security forces deployed at the entrance of towns in the Gaza Strip and intersections,” a senior official said, without giving his name because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
The deployment came after Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and prime minister Ismail Haniya gave the final go-ahead late Wednesday for the new security plan to go into effect.
Abbas’s Fatah faction and Haniya’s Islamist movement Hamas fought deadly street battles until the two sides signed a ceasefire and power sharing deal in February that paved the way for the formation of a unity government.
The official said the deployment was limited to Gaza City and the northern part of the territory, which is frequently used as a staging post for militants firing rockets into neighbouring Israel.
Witnesses said that security personnel were inspecting vehicles on the approach to Gaza City and asking passengers to show their identity cards.
Haniya’s office said a meeting on the security crackdown between the prime minister, interior minister Hani al-Qawasmeh and security supremos would begin at 1:00 pm (1000 GMT).
Taking its first major cabinet decision, the new Palestinian coalition government on April 14 voted to implement a security plan that was hailed as an attempt to restore order, particularly in the increasingly chaotic Gaza Strip.
In addition to a show of force with stepped-up security deployment and around government buildings, the plan also calls for unification of rival security forces loyal to Fatah and Hamas.
A united service would include pro-Fatah security operatives and members of a controversial Executive Force, which was created by former Hamas interior minister Said Siam in an effort to counter Fatah security dominance.
The plan also foresees the formation of a national security council — grouping long-time rivals Abbas and Haniya with the finance, foreign, interior and justice ministers — bringing all security forces under one umbrella.
Despite repeated promises from Palestinian leaders, the security services have been incapable of imposing law and order in an increasingly chaotic Gaza Strip and, to a lesser extent, in the occupied West Bank.
In addition to factional fighting, the insecurity in Gaza has been highlighted by a spate of kidnappings, including the abduction of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston who has been missing for almost two months.
Improving security and taking steps against militants determined to launch attacks on Israel are key conditions levelled by the Jewish state on making progress in the stalled Middle East peace process.
Nevertheless the security plan has faced several obstacles, and last month the interior minister tried to resign in a first jolt to the new government but in a request rejected by Haniya.
At the time, interior ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hillal said Qawasmeh’s wish to quit was based on difficulties in implementing the plan. Deputy prime minister Azzam al-Ahmad has since denied any crisis with the interior minister.