Israel Mulls Freezing Hunt for Palestinian Militants (REUTERS) By Dan Williams JERUSALEM, ISRAEL Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah 02/02/05 03:58 AM ET)
Reuters News Service
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel may freeze its hunt for Palestinian
militants to boost moderate new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,
officials said on Wednesday.
Abbas has made resuming peace talks conditional on an end to attacks
on militants whom he has coaxed into a tacit truce in the West Bank
and Gaza Strip, and the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners
Officials said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would convene his
inner cabinet on Thursday to weigh a halt to pursuit of wanted men
before a first summit with Abbas expected this month after a visit by
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"We are talking not about granting clemency, but a freeze. A freeze
means that everything is temporary," senior Defense Ministry official
Amos Gilad told Israel´s Army Radio.
"That is, if they resume terror, and the murders and attacks
continue, then we will resume vigorous action. Ultimately you need a
reliable partner, otherwise there will be no solution."
Israel had earlier refused to back off its demand, enshrined in a
U.S.-led peace "road map," for a Palestinian crackdown on factions
spearheading a four-year-long uprising. Some of the fugitives are in
groups sworn to Israel´s destruction.
But to avoid civil strife, Abbas aims to co-opt rather than try to
disarm and jail militants. He has engaged them in truce talks that
have secured a rare calm and prompted Israel to curtail missions to
kill or capture militant leaders.
Israeli media said the Shin Bet security service had balked at
including militants wanted for deadly attacks in the amnesty, which
would be finalized in security talks with Palestinians.
"This issue was discussed with the Israeli side and we will hold
another meeting tomorrow," Palestinian Negotiations Minister Saeb
Erekat told Reuters in the West Bank.
Abbas, whose election last month to succeed Yasser Arafat revived
Middle East peace hopes, hopes the informal cease-fire would prevent
chaos when Israel evacuates the occupied territory this summer under
a Sharon plan to "disengage" from conflict.
Thousands of Palestinian security forces have fanned out in Gaza
after an absence of years to stabilize the truce and Israel has
raised the prospect of a follow-up pullback from cities in the
occupied West Bank, a long-time Palestinian demand.
Rice, who heads to the Middle East next week to promote the road map
to Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza, on Tuesday held
out the possibility of U.S. support to strengthen Abbas´s security
"Obviously the Palestinians are going to need help in terms of
training and equipping their new security forces and I am sure that
there will be ways that we might be involved in that," she told
Reuters and Agence France-Presse.
"What I hope to do when I go there is to try and sustain -- help to
sustain -- the momentum that they (Israelis and Palestinians) have
clearly developed over the last several weeks." (Additional reporting
by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah) (© Reuters 2005 02/02/05)
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