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Palestinian Authority Launches 'Law and Order' Campaign

The Palestinian Authority has launched a new "law-and-order" campaign to rein in

Supporters of Hamas attend a rally in honor late Hamas leaders Sheik Ahmed Yassin, founder of the group, and Abdel Aziz Rantisi in Bethlehem
armed militants. The plan is winning praise from ordinary Palestinians.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is sending more police onto the streets in an attempt to curb what he calls "armed chaos" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The new law-and-order campaign is aimed at stopping militants from parading through the streets with their weapons.

Gunmen seized control of the streets when the Palestinian uprising against Israel erupted 4.5 years ago. While the militants are widely regarded in the territory as heroes and freedom fighters, many Palestinians have grown disillusioned with the gang rule and lawlessness that govern their cities.

"We do not want to see anybody with guns really," said Yousef Awad, a businessman in Palestinian-ruled Bethlehem. "We have seen it, we disagree with it, the Palestinian Authority now has to crack this."

Mr. Awad told VOA that any gunman who does not abide by the new regulations should face the consequences. "If he carries a gun without the law, or does not abide by the law, he should be arrested," concluded Mr. Awad.

The law and order campaign falls short of the demand by the internationally-backed Roadmap peace plan that militant groups be disarmed. Palestinian officials say militants can keep their weapons, as long as they keep them out of sight.

The Islamic group, Hamas, described the new regulations as unacceptable, so a showdown could be looming between the militants and the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Abbas has tried to avoid that, preferring persuasion to confrontation. But he is under pressure from Israel and the international community to restore law and order and end terrorism.

Last week, Mr. Abbas delivered his toughest threat yet against militants, vowing to use an "iron fist" against anyone who violates the cease-fire. And Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Youssef warned that, if dialogue with the militants fails, "the Palestinian Authority will impose control by force."