Thousands of Palestinian police have begun deploying in the southern Gaza Strip.

Palestinian authorities say security forces headed for two of the most volatile areas today (Friday) -- the refugee camps of Khan Younis and Rafah. Militants there have launched rocket and mortar attacks at Israeli troops and Jewish settlements.

Shortly after the Palestinian security move, Israeli army chief General Moshe Yaalon ordered his troops to halt operations in all areas of the Gaza Strip where Palestinian police are deployed.

Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres expressed confidence today (Friday) about new prospects for peace. Mr. Peres told a gathering of business and government leaders attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he had detected a new, in his words, "magic" in the Middle East peace process.

He said both Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have made positive moves to help the peace process.

n the Gaza Strip, the Islamic militant group Hamas has won an overwhelming victory in local-council elections.

Unofficial results today (Friday) indicate Hamas won 77 of 118 seats on 10 councils in Gaza.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party won 26 seats, independents took 14 and the radical Popular Front won one seat.

Political observers say the results reflect widespread support in Gaza for Hamas, which in addition to its militant opposition Israel also provides welfare, Islamic schooling and kindergartens to the impoverished people in the Palestinian territory.