Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia condemned continuing Israeli military raids, saying Saturday that they were hampering efforts to restart the peace process.
Hopes have been high that the peace process, stalled by four years of violence, would take off following Palestinian presidential elections on Jan. 9 to replace Yasser Arafat.
On Saturday morning Israeli troops raided the West Bank city of Tulkarem, arresting a senior Hamas militant, the army and witnesses said. The raid comes a day after Israeli troops shot and killed an Islamic Jihad militant during a similar raid.
“Unfortunately, Israel continues with its assassinations,” Qureia said at the weekly Palestinian Cabinet meeting. “It is therefore sending a clear message that it does not want to give a chance for things to quiet down and bring the [peace] process back on track,” he said.
“At a time when we are moving towards democracy, unfortunately...Israel continues with its assassinations,” Qureia said, calling on the international community to pressure Israel to end the raids.
Since Arafat’s death both Israel and the Palestinians have scaled down the violence and Israel has promised to re-deploy its troops from Palestinian towns to allow the elections to take place.
However, Israeli officials rejected Qureia’s comments, saying that while Israel has promised not to initiate any new military offensives, it would continue to go after Palestinians it believes are planning attacks.
“These raids were carried out based on specific intelligence that these men were planning on carrying out suicide bombings, “ a senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In Saturday’s raid troops surrounded a building in Tulkarem, forcing all the residents to leave and firing in the air before the Hamas militant, Rami Tayah, 26, and another man surrendered to the soldiers, witnesses said.
The army said Tayah was the head of the militant group Hamas in the town.
Peace efforts received a boost in recent days with Hamas indicating it was prepared to accept a cease-fire.
Also, the international community has stepped up efforts to mediate between the two sides.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was the latest diplomat to visit the region. Fischer arrived Saturday for a two-day visit in which he is expected to meet with Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, as well as Qureia and new PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas.