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TEL AVIV – Working at the request of U.S. security coordinators, the Palestinian Authority in recent days arrested about two dozen members of terrorist organizations as part of security arrangements for President Obama’s visit to the Middle East this week, WND has learned.
Knowledgeable PA sources said the arrests included 13 members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine as well as at least ten members of Hamas and the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad in the regions of Ramallah and Bethlehem.
The sources stressed there was no specific threat to Obama and the arrests were part of larger precautionary measures.
During his trip here, Obama will visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem and may visit PA President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
The PA is in charge of security in Ramallah and maintains security control inside Bethlehem, although Israel acts inside Bethlehem at times, as well.
While the PA is preparing for Obama’s visit, Israel too has been hard at work at coordinating security for the U.S. president’s stay, with at least 15,000 police officers slated to protect the president and his motorcade of some 60 vehicles.
The Haaretz newspaper reported yesterday that U.S. Secret Service agents arrived in Israel to conduct simulations of possible scenarios with senior Israeli police officers.
Meanwhile, the arrests of terrorists ahead of Obama’s visit comes after WND reported last month there is information the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad terrorist organization may attempt to disrupt Obama’s visit with attacks aimed at derailing Israeli-Palestinian talks, according to informed Middle Eastern security officials.
The officials stressed there is no known threat against Obama himself or any U.S. targets. Rather, Islamic Jihad is planning for possible attacks within the West Bank as well as inside major Israeli cities before and after Obama’s trip, said the officials.
The officials fear Iran is trying to disrupt planned Israeli-Palestinian dialogue aimed at creating a Palestinian Authority-led state. Obama’s visit is ostensibly aimed, among other things, at restarting these long-stalled negotiations.
Since Hamas itself does not oppose the talks, Iran must reach out to Islamic Jihad, largely funded by Tehran, to carry out any attacks, said the officials.
Based on this information, PA security forces working with Israeli security agencies have been leading a major campaign in recent days to minimize Islamic Jihad cells in Jenin and surrounding villages, said the officials.
THIS is why Obama visiting Israel
As WND reported, Obama’s planned visit has already secured Israeli and Palestinian pledges to restart so-called land-for-peace talks, according to informed Palestinian and Israeli officials.
The officials disclosed the Obama administration told both sides the talks would be aimed at creating a Palestinian state in what is known as the 1967 borders, meaning an Israeli retreat from some of the strategic West Bank and possibly some eastern sections of Jerusalem.
According to the informed officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed that once the talks begin there will be a silent, undeclared freeze on all Jewish construction in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem with the exception of what are known as main blocs – Maale Adumin, Ariel and Gush Etzion.
The officials said the White House was adamant that Israeli talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas begin regardless of the position of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Still, the U.S. is supporting Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey in back-door efforts to broker a national-unity deal between Abbas and Hamas during the same time period the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are set to take place, the officials said.
There is already close coordination between the White House and likely incoming members of Netanyahu’s government coalition who are known to be sympathetic to creating a Palestinian state, primarily former opposition leader Tzipi Livni.
Further, WND was told Livni and former Minister Haim Ramon are currently coordinating the renewal of talks with the PA’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat.
Regarding Jerusalem, the informed Israeli and Palestinian officials said the White House has been nonspecific other than to champion talks based on what is known as the Clinton parameters. The formula, pushed by Bill Clinton during the Camp David talks in 2000, called for Jewish areas of Jerusalem to remain Israeli while the Palestinians get sovereignty over neighborhoods that are largely Arab.
WND previously reported Palestinians are building illegally in Jewish-owned areas of Jerusalem, changing facts on the ground that result in Arab majorities on certain neighborhoods.
The informed officials, meanwhile, said the White House expects the issue of Jerusalem to be a key impediment in reaching a deal and is therefore discussing the formation of an international committee to help smooth the process.
Previous Israeli-Palestinian talks saw the U.S. naming an envoy meant to broker between the two sides. According to the officials speaking to WND, the White House has expressed interest in naming an envoy but has doubts about whether such a point man will be successful.
The officials said the PA is pushing for a U.S. envoy while Netanyahu’s government is indifferent to the idea.