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Al-Aqsa Brigades opts out of truce after Palestinians arrest militants (AFP-Agence France Presse) JENIN, West Bank 08/02/03) Source: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/afp/mideast
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JENIN, West Bank (AFP) - The hardline Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades group ended its truce on anti-Israeli attacks after Palestinian security forces arrested 20 militants in Yasser Arafat headquarters.
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The announcement, which could re-ignite the violence in the region, came as Israel made it clear it was not planning to change its controversial policy to isolate Arafat.
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"We have ordered the resumption everywhere of our attacks and in particular suicide operations," the Brigades said in a statement distributed in several West Bank towns.
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The group blamed the arrests on individuals "collaborating" with Israel.
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"The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades will strike with an iron fist all those who carry out Zionist and American plans."
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At least 14 of those arrested on Saturday were members of the Brigades, which is linked to Arafat´s mainstream Fatah movement, a spokesman for the group told AFP.
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It was not immediately clear if the statement concerned one or all cells of the group, as it is known to be nebulous in its structure.
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It had officially signed on to a suspension of attacks declared by other groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, on June 29.
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A senior Palestinian official told AFP those arrested would be transferred to a prison in the West Bank town of Jericho. He said the arrests had come as a result of "US pressure" and with the knowledge of Israel.
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The men were wanted by Israel for involvement in attacks, he added.
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Speaking by telephone from a temporary cell inside Arafat´s headquarters, one of the prisoners said 18 people had been arrested and given the choice of being transferred to either Jericho or Gaza.
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"Until now, our general position is to refuse both and to stay in Ramallah," Mohamed Ghassan told AFP.
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But he said the prisoners would ultimately accept any decision made by Arafat: "We trust in him," he said.
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The Brigades´ spokesman said the prisoners had gone on hunger strike, refusing either food or water in protest at their detention.
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News of the arrests came shortly after reports emerged that the US administration had softened its demands on the Palestinian Authority for the immediate dismantling of militant groups.
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According to a report in Saturday´s New York Times, the administration was concerned the Palestinian security forces were "too weak to carry out a speedy crackdown."
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The report also claimed that both the US and Israel had undergone a change of heart regarding the three-month ceasefire, now seeing it as giving Abbas time to build popularity and strengthen his security forces, so that a crackdown could succeed.
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Israeli officials were not immediately available to comment on the report, but army radio quoted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news - web sites)´s bureau chief Dov Weisglass as dismissing the report in one word -- "rubbish".
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Last year, Israeli troops staged frequent raids on Arafat´s compound, largely demolishing it, and for the past 19 months have blocked the veteran leader from leaving.
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Despite news of the arrests, a top Israeli official said there would be no change in the policy to isolate Arafat.
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"These arrests are above all designed to win back Arafat´s freedom of movement, but we have not the slightest intention of lifting the measures we have taken against him."
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The Israeli army´s arrest of four wanted Palestinians overnight, two of them members of Islamic Jihad, were followed by a statement from the group threatening also to annul its ceasefire declaration.
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"We warn the Zionist enemy that its continuing aggressions are going to force us to start the countdown to ending the truce," the movement said in a statement.
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Later Saturday, the Palestinian cabinet meeting in Ramallah decided to launch an international campaign against Israel´s continued construction of a security barrier around the West Bank to push Israel to stop building it.
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The cabinet also said Israel´s refusal to transfer more West Bank cities to Palestinian security control was a threat to progress on the roadmap, information minister Nabil Amr said. (Copyright © 2003 Agence France Presse. 08/02/03)
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