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Israel critical as Abbas persuades rather than forces insurgents

Special to World Tribune.com
MIDDLE EAST NEWSLINE
Monday, July 7, 2003

TEL AVIV The Palestinian Authority has refused to abandon its policy of convincing insurgents to end their attacks against Israel.

Israeli officials said that despite pressure the government of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has maintained a policy of dialogue with insurgency groups. The officials said the PA has arrested several Palestinians suspected of firing mortars and rockets toward Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip, but released them soon after interrogation.

So far, officials said, six insurgents from the ruling Fatah movement were captured by the PA in the Gaza Strip. They said the insurgents were released after a violent demonstration by Fatah gunmen in Gaza City.

"Everyone is operating, but not through the use of force," Israeli military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Farkash-Zeevi said. "It is a system of persuasion."

Officials said the PA has told Israel that the insurgents were released after they pledged not to attack Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip. They said the PA has argued that persuasion is required to maintain a ceasefire declared by the major Palestinian insurgency groups.

[On Sunday, Fatah gunmen burst into a courtroom in Ramallah and killed a Palestinian on trial on charges of collaborating with Israel. The Palestinian was identified as Kayed Shalbaya, 35, and the Fatah-dominated Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility.]

"There were incidents in which Palestinians were arrested, several of those connected to the fire, and after a dialogue they were released," Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said. "I would of course prefer that all of those connected to the attacks would be prosecuted. In my eyes, they are grave. But I understand that their [PA] intentions are different."

On Monday, PA officials said they had foiled two attacks planned against Israel. One of the attacks planned was a suicide bombing against an Israeli terminal at the edge of the Gaza Strip. The officials said an 18-year-old Palestinian woman who had confessed to volunteering to blow herself up was interrogated and sent back to her family.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have announced a three-month ceasefire. Fatah said it would honor a ceasefire for six months.

On Sunday the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon approved the release of up to 400 Palestinian prisoners over the next week. The Cabinet voted 13-9 to approve a set of guidelines that would release Palestinians who did not kill Israelis and were not members of Islamic insurgency groups.

Meanwhile, the United States is considering relaying a formal extradition request for a Hamas insurgent who was convicted of a series of suicide strikes that included the killing of at least three Americans.

The Bush administration is discussing the prospect of requesting the extradition of Hassan Salameh. Salameh was captured by Israel in 1998 in the West Bank and was said to have carried out a series of suicide strikes in Israeli cities in the mid- and late-1990s.

The proposed U.S. extradition request is being supported by Attorney General John Ashcroft, officials said. They said several leading members of Congress also want the United States to obtain and prosecute Salameh.

Under U.S. law, a person who is convicted of murdering an American citizen outside of the United States could be sentenced to death. Israel does not have a death penalty.

The Bush administration has not decided whether to formally seek Salameh's extradition, officials said. The United States has been seeking to maintain a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which depends on the agreement of Palestinian insurgency groups.

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