Just days before the arrival of US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, a new row emerged Saturday after the Palestinians accused Israel of preparing its troops for "a military solution" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Israeli army acknowledged a troop build up, but said it "has no intention of provoking an escalation in the situation with the Palestinians and rather is looking to lessen the tension and permit the coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, an Israeli military spokesman told AFP.
"The army has made arrangements so it can face all scenarios," he explained.
Palestinian leadership had accused the Israeli government of having started "preparing politically and militarily for a confrontation and a military solution."
Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, said Friday that "neither side can achieve all its dreams, but if the Palestinians show flexibility and a spirit of compromise, it will be possible in the near future to reach an agreement which will serve mutual interests."
Public security minister, Shlomo Ben Ami, said that "Israel intends to reach a comprehensive agreement in order to put an end to conflict while preserving its security interests and sovereignty over its capital Jerusalem."
He said the upcoming visit by Albright could lead to a three-way meeting of Barak, Arafat and US President Bill Clinton.
Israel said it stepped up security in the Palestinian territories because of Palestinian leaders' "hostile statements" and the violent confrontations that killed six people when the Palestinians protested May 15th on the anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, a day the Palestinians call Nakba, or Catastrophe.
Arafat accused Israel of not honoring its commitments and turning "threats into fact by arming a great number of the settlers, sending armored vehicles into the settlements and flying helicopters overhead day and night."
One widely held theory is that the Israeli army is getting ready in case Arafat makes good on a threat to declare an independent state with or without an agreement and the Palestinian territories go up in flames.
Such a scenario could see confrontations between the Israeli army and the Palestinian police, who could attack Jewish settlements with illicit Katyusha rockets and missiles.
Israeli media reports say that the army has sent some of its elite units, including veterans of the conflict in Lebanon, to protect the Jewish settlements - OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)