Israel army presence in West Bank 'lowest in 20 years'

29 November 2010 - 00:36 By Sapa-AFP

The number of Israeli troops operating in the occupied West Bank is at its lowest level in more than 20 years, a military source said.

"There has been a reduction in troop levels which are now at their lowest levels since the start of the first inifada," the source said on condition of anonymity, referring to the first Palestinian uprising that erupted in 1987.

Since then, dozens of regular and reserve battalions have been deployed throughout the West Bank.

Although the number of troops deployed there fell in the early 1990s with the signing of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, it rose sharply following the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000.

As the frenzy of suicide bombings and Israeli army raids gradually started to ease in 2005, the number of battalions stationed in the West Bank has dropped steadily.

However, there has been no reduction in the number of troops dedicated to surveillance, intelligence gathering and special operations, the source added.

The army declined to comment on troop numbers.

However, army spokesman Captain Arye Shalicar did say the West Bank was at its most stable since the outbreak of the second intifada due to "better coordination between the Palestinian Security Forces" and the Israeli military.

The report comes just weeks after the Haaretz daily said the army's list of West Bankers wanted for attacks against Israelis has dwindled to almost zero.