TULKARM, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s government stepped up a Western-backed crackdown on gunmen on Tuesday by deploying hundreds of security officers in the West Bank city of Tulkarm.
Tulkarm is the second West Bank city to welcome the new Palestinian force. The security drive, which comes as Palestinians start talks with Israel about statehood, started last month when hundreds of officers were deployed in Nablus.
The city’s governor said at least 500 security officers were deployed at key intersections of the northern West Bank city, erecting checkpoints and searching for unlicensed guns and stolen vehicles.
The deployment is designed to help the Palestinian Authority exert its power in the occupied West Bank, and to bolster Abbas against Islamist Hamas which seized the Gaza Strip and routed Abbas’s forces in violent clashes in June.
Israel, which is backing the security push, hopes it will help Abbas and his secular Fatah-backed government rein in militants — a step demanded by Israel after the two sides launched formal peace talks in Annapolis, Maryland, last week.
Tulkarm governor, Talal Dweikat said all illegal weapons would be confiscated, regardless of who holds them.
“We will impose the rule of law everywhere without exception. We will confiscate all the stolen and unlicensed cars. We will confiscate illegal weapons,” he said.
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s government wants to expand the security drive to more West Bank cities included in the future but Palestinians complain of frequent Israeli army raids into their cities, which undermine their efforts to end lawlessness.
Israel seized control of West Bank cities handed over to the Palestinian Authority under the 1993 interim Oslo peace deal after the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in 2000, and has since barred armed security forces from operating in the cities.
Although Palestinian police have been allowed to return to work recently, it is the first time that security forces have been allowed to operate in the West Bank since 2002.
Israel launches frequent raids against Palestinian militants in the West Bank and controls entrances to the cities through checkpoints, which it says are needed to stop suicide bombers.