Palestinian Authority endorses extended truce, backs 'roadmap'

Special to World
Wednesday, August 20, 2003

RAMALLAH The Palestinian Authority seeks to extend a truce by insurgency groups in the war against Israel.

PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has been meeting with leaders of a range of Palestinian insurgency groups in the Gaza Strip over the last two days.

Officials said Abbas wants an agreement to extend the truce declared by the groups on June 29.

"We should send a strong message to those who are trying to hurt us that the [Israeli] military is not the solution," PA minister Saeb Erekat said on Wednesday. "We should concentrate on implementing the roadmap [for a Palestinian state.]"

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have declared a three-month truce in the war with Israel, which expires on Sept. 29. The ruling Fatah movement has expressed commitment to a six-month truce.

All of the Palestinian groups have claimed responsibility for scores of shootings, suicide bombings and other attacks against Israeli civilian and military targets over the last seven weeks. The groups have said that they were responding to what they termed Israeli violations of the ceasefire.

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Hamas and Jihad have threatened to renew the war against Israel unless it releases all Palestinian detainees. Israel has released more than 500 of the nearly 7,000 Palestinians being held by Israel.

Abbas met Jihad leaders on Tuesday in Gaza City and was preparing to meet Hamas representatives. In wake of the Hamas suicide bombing of an Israeli passenger bus, Abbas canceled his session with Hamas and discussed the attack with U.S. officials.

Later, Abbas ordered an investigation of the Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem. Palestinian sources said the prime minister also suspended his dialogue with Islamic insurgency groups.

A senior PA official said Abbas does not plan a crackdown on insurgency groups. The official said Abbas has also rejected a proposal by his security aides to seize assets of Hamas and Jihad.

"Abbas's strategy is not to confront the armed groups," the PA official said. "He doesn't see any political profit by becoming an enemy of Hamas or Jihad, let alone his Fatah movement. In this respect, Arafat showed more guts in 1996 [during a Hamas suicide bombing offensive]."

In Washington, President George Bush urged Abbas and the PA to dismantle insurgency groups. Bush said Israel has not relinquished its demand for the elimination of what he termed terrorist cells.

"I think that the Palestinian Authority needs to continue to work with the United States and others who are interested in dismantling terrorist organizations and ask for the help necessary so they can go and do what they need to do," Bush said, "which is dismantle and destroy organizations which are interested in killing innocent lives in order to prevent a peace process from going forward."

Earlier, PA Security Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan warned Israel not to launch an offensive against Palestinian insurgents. Dahlan said he would guarantee that insurgents in the four West Bank cities designated for Israeli handover to the PA would not return to attacks against the Jewish state. But the minister rejected an Israeli demand that the insurgents be imprisoned.

Palestinian sources said insurgency groups have stressed to Abbas and Dahlan that they intend to respond to each alleged Israeli violation of the ceasefire with suicide and other attacks. Last week, Israeli security forces killed Mohammed Sidr, the Islamic Jihad commander in the Hebron region of the West Bank.

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