Palestinian police put the lid on protests

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The Independent Online
In the run up to the Israeli-Palestinian talks tomorrow Palestinian police have stopped all demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza. In the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem yesterday, where last Friday three peope were killed and 60 wounded, Muslim clergy stopped all protests. Unlike last week the 3,000 police and border guards present did not storm Temple Mount.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, has made conciliatory statements to Palestinians. Speaking on Israeli television's Arabic service he said: "I ask you, don't go into mourning. Don't lose hope." At the same time there is little sign that Israel will offer concessions to the Palestinians in the talks at the Erez checkpoint outside Gaza, which may be attended by Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State.

Israel wants further security measures in the autonomous Palestinian enclaves which would diminish the authority of the 40,000 Palestinian police, some of whom fought the Israeli army last week. Israel wants buffer zones separating Israeli and Palestinian forces and Palestinian police to be armed only with pistols in sensitive areas.

Ironically in Hebron, Palestinian security police, out of uniform but carrying small arms, were allowed yesterday by Israel to mingle with the crowds to urge calm during a break in the curfew. Although the Israeli government blames the police for last week's violence, in which a total of 15 Israelis and 58 Palestinians were killed, it depends on those police to prevent the stone throwing from starting again.

Israel will reportedly demand that there be no Palestinian police on the hills overlooking an enclave of 400 Israeli settlers in Hebron and that those in proximity to the settlers not carry semi-automatic weapons. In return Israel will ease the isolation of West Bank villages.

Earlier, Hamas had called for "total confrontations" with Israeli forces and settlers after Friday prayers throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The lack of response shows that the Islamic militant movement has been seriously weakened by months of suppression.

Letters, page 15

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