Wed, Feb 09, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Attacks precede crucial peace summit

'CESSATION' OF VIOLENCE Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas are in Egypt to finalize a peace deal, but militants are attempting to spoil whatever progress can be achieved


Palestinians opened fire on an Israeli military vehicle yesterday, causing no injuries, and Israeli troops arrested two militants in the West Bank, just hours before the Israeli and Palestinian leaders were to declare an end to violence after more than four years of fighting.

Agreement had been reached on three points, Palestinian Negotiations Minister Saeb Erekat told reporters yesterday at the four-way summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

These included a cessation of violence on both sides, the formation of a joint ministerial committee that will deal with the release of Palestinian prisoners and an agreement to transfer security control over autonomous West Bank cities back to the Palestinians.

"Peace is doable," he said. "What is needed is to end the occupation."

"I believe that this summit will be a beginning. It will not be an end. It will be the beginning of a series of meetings," he added.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was to pledge an end to attacks against Israelis, after having obtained such a promise from the various Palestinian militant groups.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was to declare an end to military operations, though a senior Israeli military official said yesterday that this did not mean an absolute end to arrests.

The official said that Israel reserves the right to go after "ticking bombs," or Palestinians en route to carry out an attack against Israelis, but that each arrest requires the approval of the army chief.

In areas under Palestinian security control, Israeli forces will coordinate with their Palestinian counterparts, the military official said. For now, the Palestinians control about two-thirds of the Gaza Strip. In coming days and weeks, Israel plans to hand five West Bank towns over to Palestinian control. The areas to be handed over do not include Nablus and Jenin, strongholds of militants.

The official said that while there has been a drop in Palestinian violence in recent days, intelligence officials were still receiving warnings about planned attacks.

Israeli troops yesterday briefly sealed off Nablus, barring Palestinians from leaving. The military said it had received warnings that militants from Nablus were planning an attack.

In the past few days, Israeli security forces have been on high alert, following warnings that militants including Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas were trying to disrupt the Middle East summit with attacks. Hezbollah funds a number of Palestinian groups, including squads of gunmen in Nablus.

In the Gaza Strip, Palestinians fired at an army vehicle moving along the fence surrounding the Gush Katif bloc of Jewish settlements, the army said. No injuries or damage were reported.

Near Jenin, Israeli troops arrested two militants allegedly involved in planning an attack on Israelis, the army said. The army said the arrest, like others in the past 10 days, was carried out with the specific approval of the army chief, Lieutenant General Moshe Yaalon.

Israel Radio, meanwhile, reported that 500 Palestinian security prisoners launched a hunger strike at an Israeli prison to draw attention to one of the most disputed issues on the summit agenda -- the fate of some 8,000 prisoners. However, the Israeli Prisons Authority said the prisoners were not accepting food from prison wardens, but were buying their own supplies in the prison cafeteria.

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