U.S.-Palestinian standoff over ambush that killed Americans

Thursday, February 5, 2004

RAMALLAH The United States has maintained its travel ban on the Gaza Strip, hampering aid projects there, because Palestinian authorities have made been slow to investigate an ambush that killed three Americans.

Palestinian security sources said the ban was imposed in October 2003 when three U.S. embassy security guards were killed in an attack on a convoy north of Gaza City. The sources said the ban was maintained amid the failure of the Palestinian Authority to capture those responsible for the attack.

PA National Security Adviser Brig.Gen. Jibril Rajoub said the United States has been dismayed by the failure of the PA to conclude its investigation of the Oct. 15 attack, Middle East Newsline reported. Rajoub said that the absence of U.S. officials and embassy staffers have hampered aid projects in the Gaza Strip.

"The Americans stopped their involvement waiting for the results [of the PA investigation]," Rajoub told a news conference on Wednesday in Ramallah. "This is blackmail."

Rajoub said the United States has also threatened to suspend U.S. Agency for International Development programs in the Gaza Strip unless the killers of the Americans were captured. U.S. AID is said to have about $200 million worth of projects in the area.

The U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv has refused to comment, but a diplomatic source confirmed the travel ban on the Gaza Strip.The embassy released a statement that reiterated a $5 million award for the capture of the attackers of the U.S. convoy.

State Department officials said the PA has acknowledged that it failed to capture any suspects or gather any hard leads in the attack. They said AID projects have not been suspended in the Gaza Strip.

"Our position is that there needs to be a resolution of the security situation in Gaza, including apprehension of those who are responsible for the killing of U.S. officials there," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Wednesday. "We have seen some cooperation, but we think that cooperation needs to be further increased. And that's something we do talk to the Palestinians about on a regular basis."

After the October attack, a wing of the ruling Fatah movement headed by PA Chairman Yasser Arafat claimed responsibility for the attack. Later, Fatah denied any responsibility.

"Many Americans are being killed everywhere, even in Iraq, even in Afghanistan, and the Americans are investigating, and still they haven't arrested those people," Rajoub said. "I don't think they should blame the Palestinian Authority."

In late 2003, a Western intelligence source said the United States believed that the Fatah insurgents were employed by an Al Qaida operative in the Gaza Strip. The assertion was not confirmed by the United States.

On Thursday, Israeli military sources said Islamic Jihad has tried to establish a naval squad to conduct attacks on Israeli targets. The sources said an insurgent was responsible for purchasing motorized rubber boats for what appeared to be suicide attacks from the Gaza Strip on Israeli targets along the Mediterranean coast.

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