Monday, August 27, 2007

A sign of hope in Jenin

Palestinian Authority police rescued a uniformed Israeli Defense Forces officer from a mob in Jenin.

The Israeli army said the officer entered Jenin, a town known as a stronghold of militants, by mistake and he was evacuated by Palestinian security forces in cooperation with the army.

Israeli TV stations broadcast video showing Palestinian security officers surrounding the soldier and hustling him away from the crowd, while reassuring him in Hebrew. It was not clear who took the video.

Islamic Jihad militants were disappointed that the IDF officer didn't end up in their hands, presumably to be a bargaining chip like Gilad Schalit.

"We were successful in trapping a uniformed Israeli officer," a statement released by the group read. "We were surprised when [PA security forces] thwarted our efforts by surrounding us and taking control of the soldier. In a matter of minutes, four IDF jeeps arrived at the scene and were given the soldier."

The Islamic Jihad statement further condemned the PA security forces, saying that they should work to protect the "Palestinian people instead of soldiers of the Occupation."

A lieutenant colonel in the IDF observed that the PA seems to have responded positively to recent gestures by the Israeli government, which themselves were in response to the ouster of Hamas from the PA government.

Atilee praised the PA police's quick and responsible response. Atilee added that he had received a phone call at 12:30 p.m. that an IDF officer - unarmed and in uniform - was in Jenin.

"We began coordinating his rescue with the PA and at the same time sent large forces to the city in the event that we would need to save him," he recalled, adding that the quick coordination between the IDF and the PA was made possible due to the recent change in Israeli policy vis a vis the Palestinian government in Ramallah led by Salaam Fayad.

"There is better coordination today due to the change in Israeli policy and the Palestinians did what they needed to do," he said. "They also did what was in their interest."

Perhaps there is now reason to hope that so-called "confidence-building measures" may actually build some mutual trust -- at least a little bit.

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