Israel to freeze hunt for militants as Palestinians target arms tunnels (AFP-FRANCE PRESSE) JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/02/05 5:31 AM ET)
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JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel was set to freeze its pursuit of wanted
militants as part of efforts to bolster new Palestinian leader Mahmud
Abbas who is struggling to prevent a tentative truce from
As Palestinian security forces moved to uncover tunnels which have
been used to smuggle in weapons to Gaza-based militants from Egypt,
Israel indicated that members of the factions could soon rest easy
from the threat of detention.
"We will give Abu Mazen (Abbas) a chance by suspending our operations
against the wanted Palestinians, but this is a freeze not an
amnesty," Amos Gilad, chief political advisor to Defence Minister
Shaul Mofaz, told army radio.
"If these wanted Palestinians start up their terrorist activities
again, we will resume our offensive operations against them," added
Gilad also expressed satisfaction at what he called the "dramatic
fall" in attacks by Palestinian militants in the past few days after
Abbas managed to persuade armed groups to observe a
temporary "cooling down" period.
The Palestinian president is trying to translate the temporary truce
into a formal ceasefire but wants Israel to reciprocate by ending its
military activities in the occupied territories and starting to
A spate of Palestinian mortar attacks on Monday and Tuesday on Jewish
settlements in the south of the Gaza Strip (news - web sites) has
underlined the fragile nature of the current situation.
But Gilad said Israel had to be prepared to "take courageous measures
to have a credible partner".
Determined not to allow the armed factions to target the Israeli
settlers at will, Palestinian security forces launched an operation
Wednesday to search out tunnels used to smuggle weapons and
ammunition from under the border between Egypt and southern Gaza.
Around 100 members of the national security service were taking part
in the operation around the flashpoint Rafah border crossing which
has been the site of numerous similar operations by Israel in the
The forces discovered at least one tunnel in the morning and pledged
to continue with the operation.
"Our national security started today closing tunnels on the border
with Egypt," Musa Arafat, head of the national security service in
the Gaza Strip, told AFP.
"This is in the framework of our moves to impose order on the ground
and we will continue with this operation."
Some 4,000 Palestinians security officers were deployed throughout
the Gaza Strip late last month with orders from Abbas to prevent
attacks against Israeli targets.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is to visit the region
early next week, said that Palestinian forces had made progress
toward bolstering security but have a "long way to go" to be fully
Rice also cited Abbas´s determination to rein in Islamic militants as
an encouraging sign in the peace process.
"We´re clearly in a more hopeful set of circumstances than we were
several months ago," Rice told AFP and the Reuters news agency.
"There are a lot of circumstances that are coming into place that
should give us greater opportunity to progress back onto the roadmap
and then hopefully on to a two-state solution."
The roadmap peace plan, which targets the creation of an independent
Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel, has made next to no
progress since its launch in June 2003 amid the continuing violence
on both sides.
The chief US diplomat said the priority task was for the Palestinians
to reform their security services and clamp down on anti-Israeli
attacks by the militants.
"I think they have made some progress in this regard," she
said. "It´s not perfect, but they have made some progress."
(Copyright © 2005 Agence France Presse. 02/02/05)
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