- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2003

JERUSALEM — A Palestinian militant group yesterday threatened to break a cease-fire over a standoff in the Ramallah headquarters of Yasser Arafat as Israel, meanwhile, ordered police and soldiers to remove six unauthorized Jewish outposts in the West Bank and evict their occupants.

Palestinian security officials detained at gunpoint a group of militants who refused a request to leave Yasser Arafat’s compound in the West Bank city where the Palestinian leader has been stuck for more than a year and a half.

Israel wants the 17 militants from the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, an offshoot of Mr. Arafat’s Fatah movement, to be transferred to the West bank town of Jericho. Palestinians believe the transfer will lead to an Israeli pullout from Ramallah and easing of restrictions on Mr. Arafat. Fatah officials want the militants to be freed because the Al Aqsa Brigade has declared a cease-fire.

The militants were confined to rooms in the compound by armed guards, said Kamel Ghanam, a leader who was among the detained.

He said five agreed to go to Jericho, where they apparently would be confined, but the other 12 vowed to resist attempts to move them and threatened to resume attacks on Israelis if they were forced to go.

“If they force us to leave, we will break the truce,” Mr. Ghanam said.

Al Aqsa has been blamed for several small-scale attacks on Israelis since a temporary cease-fire was declared at the end of June. Although Fatah joined the truce, Al Aqsa is loosely organized and leaders of some branches refused to honor it.

Mr. Ghanam said Mr. Arafat had asked the men to move because “the world has changed” and he was under intense pressure because of their presence. Another militant in the compound, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said removing militants was an Israeli condition for allowing Mr. Arafat to travel. Israel now says he’s free to leave but might not be allowed back.

The militants’ refusal to leave illustrated the tough task Palestinian authorities face in reining in militant groups, as required by the “road map” peace plan.

Israel also has skirted key obligations of the road map, a blueprint for ending violence and establishing a Palestinian state by 2005. The United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia support the plan.

The road map requires Israel to remove the 100 or so small outposts put up in the West Bank and Gaza Strip without government authorization since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon took office in March 2001. So far, Israel has taken down only a handful, and has not frozen construction in established Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Israeli army said yesterday it had received orders to dismantle six outposts. A top official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he didn’t know when the removal of the first six outposts would occur. The official said Israel eventually would remove all unauthorized outposts, “even if it takes a little longer.”

Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat said the latest move was cosmetic.

“Israel must dismantle all settlement outposts erected since March 2001 and freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth. That’s the real obligation,” he said.

Although violence has eased dramatically since the main Palestinian militant groups declared a temporary cease-fire June 29, sporadic deadly violence has persisted. Yesterday, police, soldiers and civilian volunteers searched northern Israel’s Galilee region for an 18-year-old waitress, Dana Bennet, missing since Friday.

Police did not point to a kidnapping by Arabs, but concerns were high after the body of 20-year-old soldier Oleg Shaichat was found in the same region last Monday, a week after he disappeared.

Also yesterday, a Palestinian teenager was killed and six other people were wounded in two explosions in Gaza, Palestinian security said in a prepared statement.

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