Palestinians stop rocket attacks by Hamas

Friday, February 7, 2003

TEL AVIV The Palestinian Authority is said to have taken the first steps to stop the firing of Palestinan short-range missiles toward Israel.

Palestinian sources said that over the last week PA security forces have prevented Hamas gunners from firing the Kassam-3 short-range missile. The forces have also been deployed in areas in the northern Gaza Strip used for Kassam launches.

PA Preventive Security Apparatus commander Col. Rashid Abu Shback told the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat daily on Wednesday that his agency has worked to end Kassam attacks against Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip and in Israel. Abu Shback did not cite any measures, but said the PA has sought to reach an understanding with Hamas to stop the missile attacks.

"We have actually taken steps to stop these launches begun by Palestinian citizens, which has created an uproar that has resulted in us paying a heavy price," Abu Shback said.

On Tuesday, the Israeli daily Haaretz, quoting Israeli intelligence sources, said PA forces were ordered to crack down on Hamas gunners after repeated Israeli military raids in the area of Gaza City. Hamas gunners have aimed close to 300 Kassam-3 missiles toward the nearby Israeli city of Sderot since April 2001.

"There have also been reports of a number of occasions when Palestinian security officials helped reveal hidden bombs," Haaretz said.

The Kassam-3 is said to have a range of between 10 and 12 kilometers. Hamas is also developing a more advanced Kassam-class missile with a range of 20 kilometers.

But Abu Shback denied that the PA has arrested Hamas gunners. The PA security chief said Kassam gunners were stopped from shooting missiles and were then allowed to leave the area.

Hamas sources confirmed that the PA has not arrested any of its members suspected of firing Kassam missiles. They said the movement has no plans to stop Kassam attacks.

On late Tuesday, Palestinian gunners fired 10 mortar rounds toward Israeli positions in the Gaza Strip. Nobody was injured.

In an unrelated development, Hamas political leader Khaled Masha'al told the London-based Al Hayat daily on Wednesday that his movement has obtained information that he has been targeted for assassination by Israel. But Masha'al said the information has not restricted his movements, including frequent visits to Beirut.

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