Thursday, February 10, 2005

Is this guy the real deal?

Could it be that an Arab leader is actually taking concrete steps against terrorism in his land? This is quite impressive, indeed.

Abbas fires three top security commanders

By Arnon Regular and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents, Haaretz Service and News Agencies

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas fired three of his senior security commanders Thursday, after militants launched a massive shelling attack on Israeli targets around the Gaza Strip and dozens of armed Palestinians raided the main PA jail in Gaza and killed three prisoners.

"These are very dangerous developments, and they violate the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority," Palestinian cabinet secretary Hassan Abu Libdeh said. "No one can continue with these violations."

Earlier Thursday, Abbas ordered PA security forces to end militant fire on Gaza Strip settlements, which shattered the relative calm surrounding Tuesday's Sharm el-Sheikh summit.

The PA officials dismissed include Brigadier General Abdel Razek al-Majaydeh, public security chief for the West Bank and Gaza; Saeb al-Ajez, police chief in the West Bank and Gaza; and Omar Ashour, commander of the security forces in the southern Gaza Strip. Dozens of lower-ranking officers also lost their jobs.

"The Palestinian Authority will not tolerate any actions that will sabotage the agreement reached with Israelis on a mutual cease-fire," said Abu Libdeh. Abbas and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed Tuesday to halt all militant and military violence.

But while Abu Libdeh appeared to connect the dismissals with the mortar and rocket fire, other Palestinian officials said the dismissals came in reaction to the prison raid and were carried out ahead of a planned round of extensive new appointments in the Gaza security forces.

Dozens of armed Palestinians stormed the main Gaza jail Thursday, which is located in a complex that also houses the Palestinian police headquarters, and killed three prisoners who had been involved in assassinating officials from the ruling Fatah movement and the Palestinian Preventative Security Services in Gaza.

The assailants blew up the outer walls of the prison compound, where they killed two prisoners convicted of murdering Fatah officials. They dragged the third prisoner out of the compund and killed him in the Al-Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza.

Later, seven people were arrested, security officials said.

The raid appears to be a new phase in the security chaos in the Strip and is considered embarrassing for Musa Arafat, who commands the Palestinian security forces in Gaza headquartered in the prison compound. Arafat is the senior figure directing the deployment of Palestinian policemen in the Strip, and the commanders fired by Abbas are considered close to him.

Meanwhile, Palestinian officials said Abbas plans to appoint many new security commanders in Gaza. He has already announced that he is planning a pension program, which will include the replacement of long-time officers.

Majaydeh was appointed by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the wake of several internal clashes and abductions in Gaza last July. He is considered a weak commander without much influence on the Palestinian security forces. Al-Ajez, who was responsible for security at the prison assaulted Thursday, was also appointed by Arafat in July and is considered a veteran officer who had a good working relationship with Israeli security officials.

Abbas orders crackdown on militants
Abbas on Thursday afternoon had ordered PA security forces to end militant fire on Gaza Strip settlements, which shattered the relative calm surrounding Tuesday's Sharm el-Sheikh summit.

Abbas's office said: "President Abbas has given orders to security chiefs to assume their responsibility to prevent any breach in the agreements to protect the national interest."

"The leadership is also studying a series of measures and decisions to be taken to restore order and rule of law," the statement said.

The head of the IDF's Southern Command, Dan Harel, met Thursday night with the commander of PA security forces in the Gaza Strip. Harel is expected to demand that Musa Arafat's forces bring an end to the Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets.

Hamas announced earlier Thursday that it had fired 46 mortar shells and rockets at Israeli communities in and around the Strip.

A second barrage was launched several hours later. One mortar shell was fired at a settlement in northern Gaza and three more in southern Gaza, Army Radio reported. There were no casualties or damage caused.

The Thursday salvo was one of the heaviest mortar barrages since Abbas and Hamas reached an accord on January 22, under which militants would curb their activities, unless Israel resumed military operations in the territories.

Hamas said that the barrage came in response to a Wednesday incident near the southern Gaza settlement of Atzmona, in which IDF soldiers opened fire at a group of four men who came within 70 meters of the fence surrounding the settlement, critically wounding one of them.

Palestinian sources said Thursday the man had died of his wounds overnight.

PA adviser Jibril Rajoub told Al Jazeera on Thursday that the Hamas reaction to Israel Defense Forces activity is not acceptable and does not serve the Palestinian interests, Israel Radio reported. He was quoted as saying that Hamas does not have the right to decide how to react to Israeli actions.

In another reminder of armed chaos in the Palestinian street challenging Abbas, dozens of gunmen including Hamas militants had stormed into a Gaza City prison on Thursday and shot dead three inmates in a settling of scores between feuding clans.

The Palestinian leader said that he was committed to the agreements he had reached at the summit in Egypt, which saw Israeli and Palestinian declarations to end hostilities between the two sides after more than four years.

Abbas is to go to Gaza on Friday to make it clear to the militants that he will not tolerate violations of the cease-fire, Abu Libdeh said.

Israel has welcomed Abbas' efforts so far, but a senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he must take far tougher action against the militants.

The IDF said that 17 mortar shells had struck Israeli targets Thursday, most of which exploded near the Neveh Dekalim settlement in the Gush Katif bloc.

A number of the shells fell within Palestinian areas of the Strip.

No injuries were immediately reported, although one of the houses in the settlement sustained damage.

IDF sources said the fire was coming from areas in which Palestinian Authority security officers are deployed, and noted that troops returned fire.

Sharon's bureau deeply concerned
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's bureau on Thursday afternoon expressed deep concern over the mortar attacks in the Gaza Strip. President Moshe Katsav said he believes in Abbas but placed responsibility for the shellings on the new Palestinian leader, Army Radio reported.

Sharon's bureau called Egyptian, American and Palestinian officials on Thursday to express concern about the fresh violence. "We informed them we expect the Palestinians to act immediately against these attacks," said Asaf Shariv, an aide to Sharon.

The security cabinet met on Thursday to discuss the continuing Palestinian attacks. Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during the meeting that Abbas' days of grace are quickly coming to an end and he must act immediately and powerfully against the militants' attacks. Israel will be forced to act if Abbas does not, Netanyahu said.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz also expressed concern over the attacks during the cabinet meeting, warning that Israel may have to resume operations against terrorists.

"The fact that the terror is continuing does not correspond with Abu Mazen's [Abbas'] remarks in Sharm, that they [the Palestinian Authority] would not tolerate ongoing fire on Israeli civilians. If the Palestinians do not fight terror, we will be forced to do it," Mofaz said.

But, he added, "we still believe that this is an historic opportunity that we must not allow to get away. [Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom] has updated the cabinet on his conversations with the foreign ministers of Morocco, Oman and Qatar, regarding the opening of missions following the return [to Israel] of the Egyptian and Jordanian ambassadors."


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