- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Revolutionary Council of Yasser Arafat’s dominant Fatah movement has been thrashing out a formula for cracking down on armed groups as required by the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan.

But the 126-person Fatah body, which is meeting for the first time in more than three years, is expected to insist on an Israeli withdrawal from major Palestinian cities in parallel with any such clampdown.

“Our security forces are ready to assume full control on any territories from which the Israelis withdraw,” Mr. Arafat told the council in an address broadcast last night.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Adnan Samara, the Revolutionary Council’s deputy secretary-general, said Fatah wanted to ensure that no weapons are carried on the streets of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip apart from those held by the official Palestinian Authority security services.

That would imply curbing Fatah’s own Tanzim militia, formed in 1995, and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, responsible for numerous gun attacks and suicide bombings since the uprising, or intifada, began late in 2000.

In addition, Fatah apparently seeks to rein in the Kassam fighters of the hard-line Hamas movement, as well as smaller militias or terrorist cells belonging to Islamic Jihad and leftist secular revolutionary groups.

In his address, Mr. Arafat offered to hold talks with Hamas and other factions leading toward their membership in the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he leads.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade took responsibility for the last two suicide bus bombings in Jerusalem in which 21 persons were killed. Arafat security adviser Jibril Rajoub described the brigades this month as “part of Fatah,” but some Fatah members think the group’s activities no longer are benefiting the Palestinian strategy.

Masked Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade cadres have said to reporters regularly, in one instance during a filmed interview from Gaza on CNN, that they obey orders from Mr. Arafat.

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