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Egypt moves to bolster the increasingly fragile cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians (Al-Ahram Weekly Online) Khaled Amayreh from Jerusalem 10 - 16 July 2003 (Issue No. 646)Source: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/646/fr1.htm ARAB PRESS ARAB PRESS Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
In an attempt to avert the collapse of the fragile truce between Israel and the Palestinians Egypt has resumed its mediation efforts in Gaza. The three-week truce is increasingly threatened by sporadic acts of violence.

On Wednesday Colonel Mustafa El-Beheiri, deputy-chief of Egyptian Intelligence, arrived in Gaza to urge the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to uphold the truce. El-Beheiri, who played a central role in convincing the resistance groups to accept the truce three weeks ago, will meet with Hamas´s spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and the leaders of Islamic Jihad.

According to sources in Gaza El-Beheiri will inform Palestinian leaders that attacks such as Sunday night´s bombing near Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, in which two persons were killed, including the bomber, give Israel a pretext to break the cease-fire and resume open- war against the Palestinians. In return Palestinian leaders will tell El-Beheiri that Israeli attacks against Palestinians, and the arrest of Palestinian activists, have continued unabated despite Palestinian restraint.

"We will tell him that this is a two-way street," said Hamas spokesman Mahmoud Al- Zahar.

Meanwhile Islamic Jihad, whose military wing, Saraya Al-Quds claimed responsibility for the bombing, has reaffirmed its commitment to the truce.

"This was an exception... a warning to Israel that the Palestinians will not stand idle while Israel continues to target and kill our people," said Mohamed Al-Hindi, a prominent leader of Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

Al-Hindi, together with Palestinian leaders from Hamas and Fatah, accuse Israel of violating the truce on a daily basis by carrying out provocative incursions into Palestinian towns and assassinating Palestinian activists. The Israeli army has continued to kill an average of one Palestinian a day since the truce came into effect.

On Wednesday Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian man and seriously injured his wife at a village south of Jenin in the northern West Bank. On Tuesday Israeli troops rampaged through Tulkarm, shooting and seriously injuring a teenager who allegedly didn´t heed orders to stop. The Israeli army´s continued raids and its targeting of Palestinian population centres and institutions throughout the West Bank is causing many ordinary Palestinians to lose faith in the current political process. It is a situation that is being compounded by mounting Palestinian indignation over Israel´s provocative refusal to release Palestinian political prisoners.

This latter issue is fast evolving into a crisis, forcing Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to tender his resignation from Fatah´s Central Committee (FCC) and to cancel a scheduled meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Abbas reportedly came under attack from Fatah leaders during the FCC meeting on Monday night. The Palestinian premier was accused of lacking a coherent negotiation strategy and of compromising the prisoners´ plight.

Fatah leaders, dismissing Abbas´s resignation as a storm in a teacup, demanded that he present the legislative council with a clear and detailed strategy for negotiations with Israel based on parity rather than the accommodation of Israeli dictates.

"The negotiations with Israel are being conducted haphazardly. Israel is treating us as a defeated party, but we are not defeated, we are ready to resume the armed struggle at any moment if our goals of freedom and self- determination are not met," said Fatah leader and Legislative Council member, Hatem Abdul-Qader.

Abdul-Qader accused Abbas of reneging on his promise to the legislative council: "He told us ´give us a truce, I will give you achievements.´ We gave him a truce and he has given us virtually nothing."

In order to secure Fatah´s backing, crucial for Abbas on both the political and security levels, the Palestinian prime minister needs to progress on three fronts.

First he will have to convince Israel to release thousands of Palestinian prisoners and not just the few hundred Israel wants.

Second, he will have to secure a qualitative improvement in the daily life of ordinary Palestinians. Many Palestinians hoped the recent Israeli "withdrawal" from Bethlehem and northern Gaza would pave the way for the lifting of crippling Israeli travel restrictions, especially in West Bank. Such hopes quickly evaporated as Israel imposed a tight blockade on the vacated areas.

He must also convince Palestinians that Israel is sincere about reaching a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians, an uphill task at a time when the continued building of the "separation wall" and unmitigated expansion of Jewish settlements have convinced many Palestinians that Israel is negotiating in bad faith. Quite how Abbas can deliver the goods the Palestinians demand is unclear. Far clearer is the gaping chasm between his desire to meet the legitimate concerns of his people, on the one hand, and his ability to extract concessions from Israel´s parsimonious hands on the other. (© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. 10 - 16 July 2003 (Issue No. 646)

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