Fatah Divided on Cease-fire Call

Fatah was divided yesterday over a draft of a declaration for an unconditional halt to attacks against Israelis inside the Green Line. European officials and Fatah sources said the movement was to announce an initiative to cease all attacks against Israeli civilians.

Fatah, the dominant political party in the Palestinian Authority, was divided yesterday over a draft of a declaration for an unconditional halt to attacks against Israelis inside the Green Line.

Early yesterday, European officials and sources within Fatah said the movement was to announce within "a few hours or days" an initiative to cease all attacks against Israeli civilians. But movement activists told Ha'aretz they were surprised to see the publication of a statement saying the movement plans to prevent attacks on Israeli civilians.

The senior officials, attending the second day of a special session of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah, said talks about a possible cease-fire had been underway for some time, with representatives from the international Quartet - the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia - but that the draft text published yesterday was not the final version.

Other activists said they were not aware that the document was to be published yesterday, while one senior Fatah member said the draft text that appeared in the Ha'aretz Web site was not the one accepted by the movement.

According to Fatah officials, debates over the content of the document have not ended, primarily over the question of whether settlers should be subject to attacks. Different opinions are held by various groups in the organization.

A main delineation is between West Bank and Gaza Fatah activists, who are closely connected with the armed faction of the organization, and close associates of Arafat who came from abroad. Arafat's associates are the ones who gave the authorization to publish the document yesterday. Domestic activists contended that the document should have first been published in Arabic for the Palestinian public.

The fallout over the cease-fire statement is most likely the result of friction between Fatah activists in the territories and those residing abroad, and an attempt by several parties - both within Fatah and in the international community - to accelerate a process that has yet to come to fruition.

In a statement, the organization was expected to say that "in accordance with the higher interests of the Palestinian people, and with our moral values, tolerant religion and belief, we, the Fatah movement reject and we will prevent any attacks against Israeli civilians."

Hussein a-Sheikh, the senior Fatah official in the West Bank, confirmed that the document had been completed, and said that it could be formally announced "within a few hours or days."

Except for resistance

The truce call does not extend to Israeli forces. "We remain committed to our legitimate right to resist the occupation of our land occupied in 1967," the text states.

The declaration is reportedly the result of two weeks of intensive negotiations between Fatah figures and EU officials, led by EU special envoy Alastair Crooke, who has been instrumental in EU and other international efforts to consolidate a cease-fire deal.

Still unknown is whether the initiative will include the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

The statement pledges that resistance to Israeli occupation will continue "until our people achieve their legal national right of return and self-determination, and the establishment of the independent State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital consistent with relevant international resolutions."

The Fatah announcement states that "we all reconfirm our support for our elected leader, Yasser Arafat, who is the symbol of Palestinian patriotism. We will resist all external attempts to interfere in internal Palestinian politics. The Palestinian people alone have the right to choose their leaders."

And the text concludes by urging an immediate return to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. "We seek to achieve peace immediately and are ready to fulfill the requirements of this peace upon finding a partner on the Israeli side. The only choice we have is to live side by side in two neighboring states, in security and peace, far from hatred, violence, and war."

Meanwhile, a military court indictment of a Tanzim activist last month shows that the Fatah-related Tanzim has ties with Hezbollah. According to the charge sheet, Omar Hamdan Sayef, 27, from Burka village near Jenin, was sent by the Tanzim to Lebanon for a 40-day training course with Hezbollah. On his return, said the indictment, he recruited at least three others for the same course, which was mostly in the use of weapons and explosives.

Yesterday, the army continued arresting suspected Tanzim terrorists, with 10 suspects detained overnight in the West Bank. The most prominent of those arrested was Mahmud Herfush, 32, who allegedly headed a Tanzim cell in the Hirbata area near Ramallah. The cell is considered responsible for shooting attacks on Route 443, including three separate attacks between January and March of 2001 that wounded four Israelis. He is also believed to have shot at a Canadian embassy car in February this year.