Wed, Jan 19, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Abbas orders security forces to prevent further attacks

AP , RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, under growing pressure to rein in militants, on Monday ordered his security forces to prevent attacks against Israel and investigate a deadly shooting of Israeli civilians last week.

However, Palestinian security officials were short on details about possible action against armed groups, and a spokesman for Hamas said the violent Islamic group would continue carrying out attacks.

The order by Abbas, approved by his Cabinet, was the Palestinians' first step against militants since last week's attack at the vital Karni crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, which killed six Israelis.

"A decision was taken that we will handle our obligation to stop violence against Israelis anywhere," said Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat.

While Israel cautiously welcomed the announcement, it remained unclear how far Abbas would be willing to go. Abbas insists he will use persuasion, not force, to rein in militants.

Palestinian ministers said Abbas planned to travel to Gaza yesterday, a day earlier than initially planned, for talks with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Abbas' victory in Jan. 9 presidential elections last week raised hopes for a breakthrough in Mideast peacemaking. Abbas has been an outspoken critic of violence and is eager to resume negotiations with Israel.

But the Karni attack, two days before Abbas was sworn into office, dispelled Israeli goodwill. Karni, the main crossing where food and other goods are shipped in and out of Gaza has been closed since the attack late Thursday.

After the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suspended contacts with Abbas, and US Secretary of State Colin Powell urged Abbas in a phone call on Sunday to rein in the armed groups, Palestinian and US officials said.

Powell called Abbas on Sunday, said US Consulate spokesman Chuck Hunter, and "emphasized the critical need to take action to stop Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets."

Israeli troops raided several areas in Gaza over the weekend to halt rocket fire on Israeli settlements and border towns, withdrawing early on Monday.

Sixteen Palestinians were killed in the raids, among them seven civilians, including a 10-year-old boy.

Israel decided to hold off on a major military offensive in Gaza to give Abbas more time to act against militants, a senior government official said Monday.

During Monday's Cabinet meeting, the Palestinian ministers instructed the Preventive Security Service, which controls the Palestinian side of crossings into Israel, to investigate the Karni attack. Three militant groups, including Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, which has ties to Abbas' ruling Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Israeli officials have said they have indications that the attackers left from a Palestinian Authority base and passed through a Palestinian checkpoint on the way to the attack.

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