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Abbas to demand militants uphold truce

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will meet with militant leaders Saturday night to push them to honor a days-old cease-fire marred by mortar and rocket attacks on Israeli targets, an aide said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will meet with militant leaders Saturday night to push them to honor a days-old cease-fire marred by mortar and rocket attacks on Israeli targets, an aide said.

The Islamic militant group Hamas said it would only stop attacks when it was satisfied Israel would release prisoners and stop pursuing militants.

Abbas’ planned meetings with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad faction were the latest sign of his commitment to keeping intact the cease-fire he and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared Tuesday to end 4½ years of bloodletting.

Abbas fires commanders
On Thursday, he fired top security commanders after Hamas bombarded Jewish settlements in Gaza with mortars and rockets. And the central committee of his Fatah movement announced a state of emergency in the Palestinian security forces in an effort to prevent new attacks.

Abbas aide Taeb Abdel Raheem said the Palestinian leader’s meetings with the militant factions would take place Saturday night. Asked if Abbas would ask the factions to commit to a cease-fire, Abdel Raheem replied: “I think there is a responsibility, and all the factions should show their responsibility in this sensitive and crucial era.”

Hamas is interested in a truce, but on condition Israel halt all raids against the militants and release prisoners, spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

“Hamas still wants a truce, but needs this truce to be with Israeli obligations,” Abu Zuhri said.

Israel pledged Tuesday to cease all its military activity against all Palestinians everywhere. It has also promised to release 900 of the 8,000 Palestinian prisoners it is holding, and signaled a willingness to release more.

Cabinet Secretary Hassan Abu Libdeh said Abbas would inform Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders that “the Palestinian Authority will not tolerate any actions that will sabotage the agreement reached with Israelis on a mutual cease-fire.”

Abbas has said all the Palestinian groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have signed on to the truce, but leaders of the two, responsible for dozens of suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis, deny that.

Abbas 'has to take action,' Israel says
Israel praised Abbas’ swift actions, but warned it had only limited patience before it would take matters into its own hands.

“We still have a policy of restraint and civilian gestures in order to strengthen him, but it must be remembered this won’t last forever,” Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister, Zeev Boim, told Israel Radio. “He has to take action.”

Palestinian lawmaker Ziad Abu Zayyad said Hamas was probably trying to strengthen its political position with the heavy bombardment, and urged Israel to continue to show restraint.

“Israel has to refrain from any inflammatory actions that could be used as an excuse to torpedo the actions being taken by the Palestinian leadership,” Abu Zayyad told Israel’s Army Radio.

Palestinian gunmen, meanwhile, opened fire Friday night on a military patrol near a Jewish settlement south of the West Bank town of Nablus, but no one was injured, the army spokesman’s office said.

Settlers block Gaza road
Earlier in the day, Jewish settlers tried to block a road in Gaza to Palestinian traffic to protest the Palestinian attacks on settlements in Gaza on Thursday, police said. The Haaretz newspaper, citing unidentified military sources, said settlers also threw stones and tried to pull Palestinian drivers out of their vehicles to commandeer them.

Police spokesman Gil Kleiman said police received information about attempts to damage a Palestinian car, but that there was no evidence of that, and no official complaint filed. Kleiman said seven settlers were arrested.

Opposition to Israel’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip has also generated violence.

Israeli media reported Friday that Attorney General Meni Mazuz ordered police to crack down on people who attack public figures after Jewish opponents of the pullout hurled objects at Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday night, and slashed the tires of his armored car.

“We have zero tolerance for violence against public figures,” Justice Ministry spokesman Jacob Galanti told The Associated Press. “All those held responsible will face the full force of the law.”

Earlier in the week, Education Minister Limor Livnat was also assaulted by a group of extremists who oppose the withdrawal.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Abu Libdeh and Palestinian negotiators Mohammed Dahlan and Saeb Erekat are to meet Saturday night to discuss Israel’s planned handover of West Bank towns, an easing of restrictions on the Palestinian population, and security issues, an Israeli Defense Ministry source said.

The military pullback from the West Bank towns is to take place in the next three weeks. The source didn’t elaborate on the restrictions that are to be eased, or the security matters that are to be discussed.