PA begins crackdown on militants, seals off Gaza tunnels
IDF sources: Too early to assess seriousness of steps; diplomatic sources: Arafat will be expelled after next big terror attack.
Palestinian security forces on Saturday night appeared to be taking preliminary steps against the terrorist factions in the Gaza Strip following heavy pressure from the U.S. on top Palestinian leaders this weekend.
Sources in the Israel Defense Forces said it was too early to assess the seriousness of the steps taken but that the picture would become clearer in coming days.
The Palestinian Preventive Security Apparatus on Saturday night uncovered three tunnels in the border town of Rafah.
A Palestinian security official said that forces headed by Security Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan had closed three tunnels used to smuggle weapons and drugs from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. Residents in the town of Rafah reported seeing a flurry of police activity at houses believed to be hiding entrances to tunnels that snake their way under the border into Egyptian territory. Three men were reported arrested.
In the northern Gaza Strip, several dozen policemen were deployed in an attempt to prevent further firing of Qassam rockets at the Negev town of Sderot. Palestinian sources reported that there had been an exchange of fire between PA security forces and Hamas activists.
"After the Americans pointed a gun at their heads, the PA leaders understand now that it is 'do or die'," a senior IDF officer told Haaretz. He described the steps taken so far by the Palestinians as limited. "Closing the tunnels will not prevent the next Hamas suicide bombing," he said. "It's time for Dahlan to stop warming up his engine and to move."
The source said the PA had informed the heads of the terrorist organizations it would not arrest them or other wanted men. "If they don't do it, we will. All the Hamas leaders - those who push for the bombings and then take responsibility for them on TV - are marked men," the source said.
Army Radio on Sunday quoted sources in Jerusalem as warning that “Yasser Arafat will be expelled from the territories after the next big terror attack.” The sources said that although a final decision has not yet been made on the matter, another large-scale attack would compel Israel to expel Arafat.
Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad told Army Radio that such a step should be considered if the current wave of terror continues and if there is another large terror attack.
IDF sources told Haaretz that PA Chairman Arafat on Thursday stopped Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas from taking action against the terrorist groups. Arafat also sent 18 wanted men out of the Muqata on Thursday in case Israel attacked the complex and tried to arrest them.
Israeli security experts believe the escalation between the sides is not likely to abate in the coming weeks. IDF forces are continuing to act in Nablus and to surround other West bank towns. The IDF also has no intention of stopping targeted assassinations, they said. On the other hand, it will consider lifting curfews in towns where there is quiet, the source said.
In the Gaza Strip, the IDF on Friday replaced roadblocks that had been removed and the Strip was effectively divided into three. But on Saturday two of the roadblocks were again lifted, apparently to allow the Palestinian security forces to move freely.
PA asks U.S. to push for end to Israeli raidsThe Palestinian Authority has asked the United States to pressure Israel to stop its attacks in order to renew the cease-fire and continue the diplomatic process, Palestinian minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said Saturday.
Abed Rabbo said that the PA would crack down on militants only if Israel halted military action in Palestinian areas.
The PA had said a such a clampdown was impossible so long as IDF forces continued raids in the West Bank and Gaza Strip unleashed after Tuesday's bombing.
"Now when the Palestinian territories are full of tanks... I think that it will hinder any effort that we will take," Information Minister Nabil Amr also told reporters Saturday.
Hamas says ready to talk truceA senior Hamas official said Saturday that the militant group was ready to discuss a new truce despite Israel's killing of a senior political leader which he said had led to the collapse of the three month cease-fire declared by militants on June 29.
"I think in political work it is possible to talk about a political step... The leadership of the movement will study any political step presented," Hamas' Lebanon head Usama Hamdan said.
Asked if the organization would discuss a possible new truce, he said: "We are ready to discuss any political ideas. But we are not ready to take positions before we know all the details."
Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership said Saturday that it was hoping to discuss with the extremist factions a new cease-fire to which Israel should also be asked to sign on, and urged Israel to end its policy of targeted assassinations of top militants.
Heading into a cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Saturday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath said a cease-fire only among militant groups was not enough.
"We want a hudna between all the Palestinian Authority and all its organizations and Israel," Shaath said. "We want a full stop to violence."
Another cabinet minister, Ghassan Khatib, said efforts were underway to reopen talks with militants to try to rescue the truce.
An Islamic Jihad spokesman in Gaza said the group did not object to the idea of renewed talks but said there was no chance for a new cease-fire as long as Israel is hunting militants.
"We don't have any conditions for any new dialogue," said Nafez Azzam, the Islamic Jihad official. But, he added, "I doubt that Israel is going to respect any new commitment."