On the three-year anniversary of the Palestinian uprising, the outgoing Palestinian security chief said militants made a mistake in using arms against Israel and failed to understand that the world had changed after Sept. 11.
Violence has been "detrimental to our national struggle," the security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, said in remarks published Sunday, as thousands of Palestinians marked the anniversary with marches in the West Bank.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, militants wearing fake explosive belts and burning a miniature Israeli bus led a crowd of several thousand.
The intifada began Sept. 28, 2000, after Israel's then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon, now prime minister, visited the hotly contested Jerusalem holy site known to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Palestinians called the visit a provocation, because Sharon emphasized Israel's claim of sovereignty. Violent clashes followed, and grew into three years of violence marked by repeated terror attacks against Israelis and Israeli military strikes into Palestinian areas. A total of 2,477 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 860 on the Israeli side.
Today, the US-backed "road map" peace plan, stalled but still on the table, offers the Palestinians a state by 2005 if the violence ends.
Hamas, responsible for scores of suicide bombings against Israel, marked the anniversary Sunday with a pledge to continue the uprising nonetheless. Hamas reiterated its opposition to the road map and called on the Palestinian Authority and an incoming Cabinet to uphold the Palestinians' right to resist the occupation.
In the latest attack on Friday night, an Islamic Jihad gunman burst into a Jewish holiday dinner at a West Bank settlement, shooting to death a seven-month-old baby and a 27-year-old Israeli man.
On Monday, Israel eased a tight closure it had imposed on the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the two-day New Year's holiday that ended Sunday night. However, travel restrictions remained largely in place.
Palestinians have been living with such restrictions since the uprising erupted, with checkpoints zigzagging around their towns and villages in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, hindering travel and devastating their fledgling economy.
Dahlan, who served as security chief for four months under outgoing Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, said the militant groups have been misreading the situation.
"Resorting to armed violence in certain phases of the Palestinian intifada, the way it was done in the past three years, proved to be detrimental to our national struggle," Dahlan told the Lebanese English-language newspaper Daily Star in an e-mail interview.
"We had hoped that the various Palestinian factions would understand the new world that emerged after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and learn from their outcome," Dahlan said.
"Each era of national struggle has its own characteristics and means. What is positive at a certain time might be counterproductive in other times," Dahlan added.
Dahlan was security chief under Abbas, who stepped down after Arafat failed to relinquish control over security forces. Dahlan, who had the support of the US, will not be in the new government of Prime Minister-designate Ahmed Qureia.
The new Cabinet was presented to Arafat's Fatah movement on Saturday. An Arafat loyalist, Nasser Yousef, will serve as interior minister, a job that grants him control over part of the security branches, with the rest commanded directly by Arafat, who also presides over a new 12-member National Security Council.