updated 5/4/2005 1:56:48 PM ET 2005-05-04T17:56:48

Israel will not hand over any more West Bank towns to Palestinian control because militants are not being disarmed, the Israeli Security Cabinet decided Wednesday, despite a truce pledge to transfer five towns.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz charged that the Palestinians are not fulfilling their commitment to collect weapons from militants in the two towns Israel transferred under terms of a Feb. 8 cease-fire. He was speaking at a meeting of Israel’s security Cabinet.

Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz, who took part in the meeting, said the security body agreed with Mofaz’s decision.

The step added tension to an already shaky atmosphere surrounding the truce, though it has led to a significant reduction in the violence that plagued the area for more than four years. Rebuffing Israeli and U.S. demands, the new Palestinian Preventive Security chief said Wednesday that he would not order the disarming of militants.

In the weeks after the truce was declared, Israel turned over control of Jericho and Tulkarem to Palestinian security, but held up turning over Bethlehem, Qalqiliya and Ramallah, charging Palestinian violations.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian Authority was never formally notified of the Israeli freeze. “It’s a very unfortunate approach and decision,” he told The Associated Press.

In Gaza, meanwhile, the newly appointed Palestinian security chief in charge of reining in militants said Wednesday he has no plans to disarm them, but asked the armed groups not to flaunt their weapons.

Crackdown on crime awaits elections
Brig. Gen. Rashid Abu Shbak also said a long-promised crackdown on crime would only begin after local elections are held this week, to avoid allegations that the security services are trying to intimidate candidates or influence the voting.

Israel and the United States have repeatedly demanded that the Palestinian Authority dismantle the armed groups. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has avoided large-scale confrontation, opting instead for persuasion and compromise.

Israel and the United States urged the Palestinian Authority once again on Tuesday to dismantle militant groups.

Abu Shbak was unmoved.

“We are not going to have any confrontation with anyone,” he told reporters. “We will not reach this point, and we will not allow anyone to bring us to this point.”

He urged the Palestinian groups to act responsibly, cautioning that they could bring bloodshed upon the Palestinian people should they not.

Fear of bloodshed was also on Abbas’ mind Tuesday when he attacked Israel for pressuring him to confront militants.

“Israelis want Palestinian blood to be spilled, and we don’t accept that,” the Palestinian government news agency, WAFA, quoted Abbas as saying. Still, he said, “the Palestinian Authority is acting to prevent chaos and a proliferation of guns on the streets and in public places.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said Israel intends to hold on to major West Bank settlement blocs, and over the past year, has received backing on this from the United States.

With peacemaking at an impasse, Sharon has planned a unilateral evacuation of Israeli settlers and military from the Gaza Strip and four small northern West Bank settlements this summer.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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