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Pressing Mahmoud Abbas on the eve of the Saturday inauguration of the new Palestinian Authority chairman, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ordered a blanket halt on all ties with Abbas until he cracks down on Palestinian terror groups, amid reports that Israel accused the PA's anti-terror agency of complicity in the deadly Thursday attack on the Karni crossing facility in Gaza.

Sharon's Friday order was echoed in Washington with a stern statement by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who refrained from criticising the break in ties and said of Abbas, "He's got to get those terrorists under control."

According to The Washington Post, a senior Israeli official who asked not to be identified said the Preventive Security Service, one of the PA's principal security arms and the force designated to head off attacks against Israel, was "to the best of our knowledge involved" in the attack, which killed six Israeli civilians working at the site.

The official declined to cite evidence, but said that the militants who carried out the attack would have certainly had to pass through several layers of PA security before reaching the facility, the Post reported.

Announcing the cessation of ties, Sharon spokesman Assaf Shariv said on Friday that Israel had made the decision because the attack on the Karni crossing was launched from a Palestinian Authority base. Israel also closed down the three checkpoints connecting the Gaza Strip to Israel and Egypt until the Palestinians take steps to fight terrorism.

"Israel informed international leaders today that there will be no meetings with Abbas until he makes a real effort to stop the terror," Shariv said.

Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an off-shoot of Abbas's Fatah movement, jointly mounted the attack, which began when a very large explosive device - which experts estimate weighed more than 120 kilograms - was used to blast through a door that separates the Israeli and Palestinian sides at the crossing.

Palestinian gunmen then opened fire on the Israelis working at the crossing, including security guards, with mortars and light arms.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Friday that the attack could have been prevented by PA security services since the three attackers had to cross through a Palestinian checkpoint before reaching the Karni crossing.

Three of the dead, Dror Gizri, Herzl Shlomo, 51, and Ivan Shmilov, 54, were residents of the western Negev town of Sderot and were buried at the Sderot cemetery on Friday afternoon. Two others were residents of Arab villages, Munam Abu Sabia, 33, from Daboriya, and Ibrahim Kahili, 46, from Umm al-Ghanem. The final victim to be identified Friday was Oder Tiri, 23, of the southern coastal town of Ashkelon.

Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat confirmed the suspension of ties with Israel, and said that the prime minister's office had informed him of the decision on Friday.

Shariv also said that Israel expects the Palestinians to decide on concrete operative action to rein in Palestinian militants.

He also said that Israel informed officials from the United States, European Union, Britain and the Palestinians.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia told Reuters the Israeli decision was an excuse not to resume peace talks with the new administration under Abbas, who was elected following Arafat's death on Nov 11.

"This is a wrong decision and shows that Israel is trying to find any excuse to disrupt any serious effort that leads to reviving the peace process and to achieving calm," Qureia said.

Qureia blamed extreme factions on both sides who he said wanted to disrupt a resumption of negotiations.

"There are parties on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides who want to obstruct attempts to restart peace moves and achieve calm. So it is wrong to seize any opportunity to justify taking that path," he said.

Erekat said that the criticism of Abbas was unfair as he has not yet been sworn in as the Palestinian Authority chairman. He said the best way to re-launch the peace process was not by suspending the negotiations but by renewing them.

"We call on the Israelis to resume a meaningful peace process and dialogue because this is the only way to break the vicious cycle of violence," Erekat said.

Powell insists Abbas bring terror groups under control

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Friday insisted that Abbas bring under control terror groups that are killing Israelis.

"He's got to get those terrorists under control," Powell said. "I hope that's just a temporary breach," Powell said in an interview with Michael Reagan on the Radio America Network.

He said the terrorists are not going to destroy Israel. "It's not going to accomplish anything. It hasn't accomplished anything," Powell said.

"Abu Mazen, who I know very well, knows full-well, and we've talked about it many times, that he's got to get these terrorists under control."

Powell did not criticize Sharon for his break with Abbas but praised him for welcoming the election of the new Palestinian leader and saying he wants to be a partner for peace with him.

The attacks do not move the Palestinians any closer to having a state of their own, Powell said. "Abu Mazen understands that; so do other Palestinian leaders," he said, "and they are going to have to work hard to get these groups under control."

The U.S. will help with the rebuilding of Palestinian security forces, he said. But ultimately, Powell said, "It's going to have to be something that the Palestinian leaders and the Palestinian people do."

Foreign ministry dispatches officials to Cairo

Israel is dispatching two foreign ministry officials to Cairo Saturday to meet with senior Egyptian government aides in the wake of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to freeze ties with the Palestinian Authority, Israel Radio reported.

Ron Prosor, the ministry's director-general, and Yaki Dayan, the head of the ministry's political desk, are scheduled to meet with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

Prosor and Dayan are expected to explain the government's decision to the Egyptians as well as make clear that Egypt must demand that the Palestinians cease acts of terrorism instead of settling for a ceasefire.

Israel will also ask Egypt to deploy forces along the Philadelphia Route near the Gazan-Egyptian border and to take action against weapons smuggling through tunnels dug by Palestinian militants.

The subject of the return of Egypt's ambassador to Tel Aviv is also expected to be raised, Israel Radio reported.