Palestinian police disperse Islamic Jihad protest in Ramallah
Sixty members of armed group gathered outside Abbas' office to protest arrest of four members.
Palestinian police fired in the air Saturday to disperse about 60 Islamic Jihad activists who gathered outside Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' offices to protest the arrest of four of the militant group's members earlier this week, police said.
No casualties were immediately reported, they said. Abbas was not in his compound at the time.
The activists were students from Bir Zeit University in Ramallah. After police opened fire, the activists marched to the town center, where dozens of other young Islamic Jihad members joined them in a protest.
Syria denied on Saturday it was sheltering the Islamic Jihad group, a day after international mediators for the Middle East conflict urged it to expel Palestinian militants behind suicide bombings in Israel.
"The offices of Islamic Jihad Movement in Syria have long been closed like those of other Palestinian groups," the state news agency, SANA, quoted a foreign ministry source as saying.
"The military and semi-military activities are launched from the Palestinian territories, not from Syria."
The United States joined Friday with the United Nations, Russia and the European Union in demanding Syria immediately close the offices of Islamic Jihad in Damascus and prevent the use of its territory for terror actions.
The demand was announced by State Department spokesman Sean McCormack after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke for about a half-hour by telephone with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, and European diplomats Javier Solana and Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, as well as other PA officials, have complained recently of difficulties in fighting terrorist organizations backed by Damascus and Tehan. On his recent trip to Washington, Abbas was promised U.S. assistance on the matter; Friday's announcement is part of this effort, and is also part of a wider U.S.-French campaign against the Syrian regime.
However, Israel Radio reported Saturday that Al Quds al Arabi, an Arabic-language newspaper based out of London, published statements made by an Islamic Jihad official claiming the organization's Damascus offices have been closed for two years. The same sources said that Islamic Jihad secretary-general Ramadan Shallah left Damascus voluntarily three months ago in order to help alleviate international pressure on Syria.
Israel Radio also reported conflicting statements made by another Islamic Jihad leader, who said that the organization's presence in Damascus is as natural as that of Palestinian refugees in the Diaspora. He added that the group is still commited to maintaining calm in the Palestinian territories.
Islamic Jihad said the Hadera suicide bombing was carried out to avenge the killing by Israel Defense Forces troops of a leading Islamic Jihad militant.
The Quartet called for restraint, communication between Israel and the Palestinians and said an escalation of violence should be avoided.
McCormack said he was not drawing any specific link between the Hadera bombing and any particular orders that may or may not have come out of Damascus. "I am not trying to draw that line at this time," he said.
"But, I think it's very clear that you have senior leadership of some of these groups, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, resident in Damascus," he said.
Linking Islamic Jihad to other deadly bombings in Israel, as well, McCormack said "this is a terrorist group that is intent upon subverting progress that the Israelis and the Palestinians are attempting to make along the pathway to the shared goal of two states living side by side in peace and security."
Lebanese premier rules out clash with armed PalestiniansLebanon won't ignite a military confrontation with Palestinian militants holed up in two bases surrounded by Lebanese troops for the past four days, the prime minister said in remarks published Saturday.
Fuad Saniora also denied reports that Lebanese troops are laying siege to bases of two pro-Syrian groups - the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -General Command and Fatah Uprising - near the mountainous Lebanese-Syrian border.
Hundreds of Lebanese troops took up positions around the bases after a Lebanese contractor was killed Tuesday near the Syrian border. Lebanon blamed the killing on Fatah Uprising, which denied the claim.
Soldiers have also been trying to prevent weapons, militants and smugglers entering Lebanon.
The standoff ignited fears of possible armed conflict between Lebanese troops and pro-Syrian Palestinian militants. Lebanese authorities are negotiating with Palestinian officials to try regulate the use of weapons in the hands of Palestinian militants and refugees.
Regional tensions are already high amid UN reports of Syrian involvement in February's assassination of a former Lebanese leader and claims that Lebanon has not done enough to disarm militant groups on its soil.
But Saniora stressed negotiations will be used to solve the issue of armed Palestinian militants operating outside refugee camps scattered across Lebanon.
"Our position has always been to call for dialogue rather than call for a clash," Saniora said in remarks published by As-Safir and other newspapers Saturday.
"They (the Palestinians) are temporary guests in Lebanon and we are very keen to have good relations with them," he added.
But Saniora reiterated his government's position that there should be no Palestinian weapons outside the 12 refugee camps in Lebanon which house about 350,000 Palestinians.
Lebanese troops eased the blockade around the PLFP-GC base in Sultan Yacoub, a village about 5 kilometers from the Syrian border, where they are suspected of smuggling weapons, a Lebanese security official said.
The troops let a small truck carrying food, water, bread, vegetables and fruits enter the base, the official said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Soldiers also moved back a checkpoint from the base by more than one kilometer.
In nearby Helweh where the Lebanese civilian contractor was killed, troops also pulled back about two kilometers from the Fatah Uprising base, villagers said.
But troops kept patrolling Helweh to prevent weapons reaching the base and tightened control over smuggling routes between Lebanon and Syria.
Both Palestinian groups, which have long been based in Lebanon and supported by Syria, warned Lebanon about escalating tensions.
Saniora also ruled out Lebanese troops storming refugee camps to disarm Palestinians - an event that will likely lead to bloodshed.
Lebanon has long viewed armed Palestinians with suspicion, largely due to the guerrillas' role in the 1975-90 civil war. Their cross-border attacks into Israel in the 1970s and 1980s also led to two Israeli invasions of Lebanon.
No one knows exactly how many weapons are in the 12 Palestinian shantytowns that dot Lebanon. But many of the 350,000 refugees own firearms, and the guerrilla factions have thousands of fighters.