Jerusalem In a rare note of optimism, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said preparations for a new Palestinian security apparatus a key demand of the United States and Israel should begin this month.
Even so, Sharon said the Palestinians have failed to keep their part of a tentative truce agreement. In a radio interview aired Saturday, the Jewish New Year, he also repeated demands for a total cessation of violence and an overhaul of the Palestinian Authority before the moribund peace process can be revived.
Early Saturday, Israeli troops moved into the Gaza Strip town of Deir el Balah, detaining six men and destroying two buildings, one of which the army says was used to make weapons a claim the Palestinians denied. The army said it also searched a Gaza office belonging to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement and found a "powerful explosive device."
Also on Saturday, in the West Bank city of Hebron, Israeli soldiers arrested leading Hamas militant Hisham Sharabaty. Few details of the arrest were available, but Palestinians said Sharabaty, long wanted by Israel, had been living at large for years and was arrested at his home during a rare visit.
Meanwhile, Palestinians denounced an army investigation that cleared Israeli soldiers of misconduct in the deaths of 12 Palestinians last week, calling it a whitewash.
Speaking to Israeli Army Radio, Sharon said the rehabilitation of the Palestinian security forces was imminent.
"Training and preparation of a new security apparatus will, I estimate, begin during the course of this month," he said.
"That's a beginning."
Palestinian Interior Minister Abdel Razak Yehiyeh said there's not going to be a new security apparatus but rather a "refresher" course.
"It will be training for a group of officers and members in the already existing security apparatuses, Yehiyeh told The Associated Press.