7:49 AM PST, January 17, 2005
RAMALLAH, West Bank —
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas ordered his security forces Monday to try to prevent attacks against Israel and to investigate a shooting at a Gaza Strip crossing that killed six Israeli civilians last week.
However, Palestinian officials would not provide details of the order, and it was unclear how it would be translated into action, if at all. Abbas insists he will use persuasion, not force, to rein in armed groups.
A Hamas spokesman said the Islamic militant group will continue carrying out attacks.
Abbas was under growing pressure to move against militants following last week's attack at the Karni crossing between Gaza and Israel. Israel suspended ties with Abbas in response and ordered its army Sunday to do whatever was needed to stop Palestinian attacks.
But Israel decided to hold off on a major military offensive in Gaza to give Abbas more time to act against militants, a senior government official said Monday.
Secretary of State Colin Powell also urged Abbas in a phone call Sunday to rein in the armed groups, officials said.
Abbas' victory in presidential elections last week had raised hopes for a breakthrough in Mideast peacemaking. However, the Karni attack, two days before Abbas was sworn into office, ended his honeymoon with Israel before it ever started.
Israeli troops raided several areas of Gaza over the weekend to halt rocket fire on Israeli settlements and border towns, withdrawing early Monday. Sixteen Palestinians were killed in the raids, among them nine gunmen and seven civilians, including a 10-year-old boy.
A senior Israeli military official said Monday the army will re-enter areas of the West Bank it is slated to evacuate later this year if Palestinian security forces cannot prevent attacks from the area. The remarks by the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, indicated that Israel's planned withdrawal from the northern West Bank this summer might not be permanent.
In a Palestinian Cabinet meeting Monday, Abbas instructed the security forces to try to prevent attacks against Israel.
"A decision was taken that we will handle our obligation to stop violence against Israelis anywhere," Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said.
Abbas moved up his planned negotiations with militants. Ministers said he would travel to Gaza for talks with various factions Tuesday, instead of Wednesday, as initially scheduled.
The Palestinian Cabinet also asked the Palestinian Preventive Security Service, which controls the crossings into Israel, to investigate the Karni attack. Three militant groups, including Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, which has ties to Abbas' ruling Fatah movement, carried out the attack.
Israeli officials said they have indications the attackers left from a Palestinian Authority base and passed through a Palestinian checkpoint on the way to the attack.
Israel has accused Palestinian security forces of permitting acts of violence and even collaborating with attackers. It wants Abbas to overhaul the myriad security forces and place them under a central authority.
Raanan Gissin, a Sharon aide, called Monday's Cabinet decision a "small step in the right direction."
"Now we have to see how it happens on the ground, based on things that were said," he added.
Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri said the group would not comply with the new orders.
"We consider resistance as a red line, and no one is allowed to cross this line," al-Masri said.
However, Hamas leaders have said they would consider halting attacks if Israel stops military operations.
On Monday, the Islamic Jihad group sent two gunmen into a no-go zone near the border fence between Gaza and Israel, and Israeli troops killed one of them. In searches, troops found a missile launcher and an anti-tank missile while coming under fire from the second gunman, who was killed in a shootout, the army said.
Also Monday, the Israeli town of Sderot, hard-hit by Palestinian rockets fired from nearby Gaza, observed a general strike to protest the military's inability to stop the attacks.
Four Sderot residents have been killed in recent months. A 15-year-old girl was critically wounded by a rocket over the weekend, and two more rockets fell on Sderot's outskirts Monday, causing no damage.
"A government that cannot defend all its citizens is a government that has no right to rule," Mayor Eli Moyal told a crowd of several hundred people gathered outside municipal offices.
Associated Press reporter Laurie Copans in Jerusalem contributed to this report.