JERUSALEM (AP) – Palestinian authorities began enforcing a ban on public displays of weapons yesterday, arresting three people and confiscating the guns of off-duty police officers in a key step toward imposing order in the chaotic Gaza Strip.
The crackdown came as dozens of Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank held municipal elections. The powerful Hamas movement was expected to make strong gains, despite a continuing Israeli offensive against Islamic militants.
Pressing forward with its military campaign, Israeli soldiers killed three Palestinian gunmen during raids in the West Bank. Israel launched the wave of airstrikes and arrest raids last weekend in response to Gaza militants’ rocket attacks on southern Israeli towns.
The offensive raised pressure on Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to act against militant groups and armed gangs, which operate openly in Gaza. Israel says there can be no peace talks until the groups are disarmed.
In a move to bring order to Gaza, Palestinian officials announced a ban on public displays of weapons yesterday, and Hamas said it would honor it.
The Palestinian police chief, Ala Husni, said that in the wake of Israel’s recent pullout from Gaza there is no longer a reason for anyone other than security officers to carry weapons.
“The role of resistance weapons has ended in the streets. They should go back into storage and they should not show up in the streets,” he told a news conference. “Any weapon now in the street is a criminal weapon.” He said there were no plans to seize stored weapons.
Interior Ministry spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa said authorities arrested three men carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles yesterday and confiscated their weapons. Several security officers also were arrested for carrying guns while off duty, he said.