Palestinians Fugitives Ready for Amnesty (AP) By ALI DARAGHMEH QABATIYE, West Bank Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah contributed to this report 02/02/05 3:59 PM)
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QABATIYE, West Bank - Palestinian gunman Jamal Abu Rob, who killed
three Israelis and two alleged Palestinian informers in the past four
years of fighting, says he is tired of life on the run. Like many
other fugitives, he wants to take Israel up on a tentative offer of
conditional amnesty for militants.
Abu Rob, cradling an M-16 with a Yasser Arafat sticker on the rifle´s
butt, says he believes violence is futile - though he shows no regret
for killing five people - and hopes to run in Palestinian
parliamentary elections in July.
Other fugitives say they just want their old lives back.
"Now there is a chance for all of us to rest and consider our
choices," said Kamel Ghanem, 28, in hiding in the West Bank city of
Ramallah since the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in 2000.
Under an emerging deal, Israel would grant conditional amnesty to
fugitives in areas handed back to Palestinian security control.
Palestinian forces already have deployed across the Gaza Strip, and
Israel plans to withdraw gradually from West Bank towns in coming
weeks if an unofficial truce holds.
Fugitives will be asked to sign a pledge they will halt attacks and
hand over their weapons, a Palestinian security official said on
condition of anonymity. Wanted men also would require permission to
leave town, with compliance enforced by Palestinian police
checkpoints to be set up on the exit roads, replacing Israeli
Israeli officials said a joint Israeli-Palestinian commission would
decide who will be taken off the wanted list. Anyone found to be
plotting more attacks would become a target again - though Israel´s
military decided last week to suspend its targeted killings of wanted
Several hundred Palestinians from the Islamic militant groups Hamas,
the Al Aqsa Martyrs´ Brigades and other factions have made Israel´s
wanted list. Al Aqsa has ties to the ruling Fatah movement of
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
In an interview on Israel´s Army Radio Wednesday, senior Defense
Ministry official Amos Gilad brushed off criticism that ending the
hunt for fugitives would be tantamount to pardoning Palestinians
responsible for killing Israelis.
"We are not talking about pardoning," Gilad said. "If they return to
terror and if the attacks and the murders continue, then in the end
we will return to a different type of vigorous activity."
The No. 1 fugitive, Hamas bombmaker Mohammed Deif, has escaped two
Israeli attempts to kill him, including a missile strike in 2002 in
which he lost an eye. Deif is so shadowy that the most recent
photograph of him is from the 1980s.
Legend in the Gaza Strip has it that he is extremely self-reliant and
can stay in the same hiding place for months on his own. Deif, a
fugitive for 13 years, is responsible for the deaths of dozens of
Israelis in suicide bombings.
The 40-year-old Abu Rob, a father of five, commands the Al Aqsa
Brigades in Qabatiye in the northern West Bank.
Called "Hitler" by his fellow gunmen, he refused to discuss the five
kills he claims, except to say he shot one of the Israelis in a
roadside ambush. Asked in an interview in a hiding place whether he
was sorry, he said: "This is in the past. I was a Palestinian soldier
and if they (the Israelis) wouldn´t kill me, I would kill them. Such
Abu Rob said he has decided to go into politics and run for
parliament. One of his brothers already is printing campaign posters,
a montage of photos showing him in between Abbas and Arafat.
The gunman said he wants to fight against government corruption and
show that violence is useless.
"For 23 years, I worked with this weapon and I reached the conclusion
that I need to put this weapon aside," he said of his M-16. "The
Palestinian people should put their weapons aside and work only
through politics, because this (violence) is not worth it and won´t
bring us victory."
Abu Rob was first arrested by Israel at age 17 for anti-Israeli
activity and then was detained 10 more times, including once by the
Palestinian security forces. During the current conflict, he turned
down an offer by the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah to fund his
squad, he said. Working with Hezbollah would have meant working
against Fatah, Abu Rob said.
Other Al Aqsa squads have taken Hezbollah money and are among the
most reluctant to agree to a truce with Israel.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, Al Aqsa gunman Nasser Juma said it
was time to give Abbas a chance to negotiate a peace deal with
Israel. Juma said many of his friends were killed or arrested, and he
now believes they fought for nothing.
But Ala Sanakra, the head of Al Aqsa in the Balata refugee camp on
the outskirts of Nablus, said he does not trust the Israeli offer. He
said soldiers searched the camp on Monday, looking for a fellow
fugitive and warning the man´s family that their house would be
demolished if he did not surrender.
"If this continues, we will renew our fight," he said of the promise
by armed groups to Abbas to suspend attacks.
Nablus and the West Bank city of Jenin, strongholds of militants, are
likely to be the last areas handed to Palestinian control.
Ghanem, the Ramallah fugitive involved in attacks that killed five
Israelis, said he wanted to quit.
During the uprising, he secretly married the widow of a friend who
was killed by Israeli troops, and the couple had a baby last month.
Ghanem said his wife had to sneak around to take the baby to a doctor.
"I am eager to live a normal life," said Ghanem, who in 2003 rejected
similar truce efforts by Abbas, then prime minister.
"At the time, we were not tired enough. But now we are." ---
Associated Press reporter Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah contributed
to this report. (Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 02/02/05)
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