Palestinians moving weapons in Gaza one day after Israeli pullout

Saturday, July 5, 2003

TEL AVIV Palestinian insurgents are exploiting their newly-obtained freedom of movement to transport weapons and mortars in the Gaza Strip, according to Israeli military sources.

The sources said Southern Command has determined that Palestinians from several insurgency groups are moving both combatants and weapons along the north-south highway through the Gaza Strip. The sources said movement of weapons and insurgents was detected on Monday, the first day after the Israeli withdrawal from the northern Gaza Strip.

"We are seeing terrorist groups using the ceasefire to reorganize, move weapons and equipment to replace those destroyed in Israeli operations," a military source said.

Despite a ceasefire announcement by the three largest insurgency groups, Palestinian gunners have maintained mortar, anti-tank and automatic fire on Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip, Middle East Newsline reported. Four Israelis were injured in an anti-tank rocket attack on the Israeli community of Kfar Darom.

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On Thursday, Israel's military closed the north-south road in the Gaza Strip near the Israeli settlement bloc of Gush Katif. The military said in a statement that the closure came amid renewed violence along the road, a reference to the Kfar Darom attack.

Later, Israel relayed a formal protest to the PA. Military sources said the north-south road was reopened on Thursday afternoon.

The Palestinian mortar and anti-tank fire has been attributed largely to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, dominated by the ruling Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. The sources said Al Aqsa has been splintered and cells continue to receive funds from Iran and Hizbullah to maintain insurgency operations.

Israeli officials said the PA has come under increasing pressure from the United States to confiscate weapons from insurgency groups in the Gaza Strip. They said the PA has been urged to arrest senior operatives and raid strongholds by July 20.

On Thursday, PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who toured the northern Gaza Strip, condemned the latest attacks on Israeli positions and pledged to arrest those who carried out the operation. PA Security Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan said PA security forces are seeking suspects in the rocket attack.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has also demanded that the PA stop encouraging young Palestinians to attack Israelis. Shalom said Palestinian television incites to violence and that 40,000 Palestinian youngsters would undergo training at summer camps to help in the insurgency war against Israel.

For its, part, the PA has pressed Israel to release thousands of Palestinian prisoners. Officials said Israel has signaled its approval to free 2,200 detainees deemed as not having been involved in the killing of Israelis. They said 2,500 Palestinian detainees have been directly connected to the death of Israelis.

Palestinian sources said Israel plans to release a senior PA security official on late Thursday. The sources identified the official as Col. Suleiman Abu Mutlaq, regarded as the No. 3 figure in the Preventive Security Apparatus and was arrested on suspicion of helping direct insurgency attacks against Israeli civilian targets. The PA has demanded Abu Mutlaq's release to help end Palestinian insurgency attacks in the Gaza Strip.

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