- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005

TEL AVIV — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ordered his security forces yesterday to halt a wave of attacks on Israelis that threaten to undermine his administration in its first week in power.

“A decision was taken to exert 100 percent effort, in order to stop all violence against Israelis anywhere,” said Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat, who urged Israel to give the new president more time.

“The man has only been in office 48 hours,” Mr. Erekat said. “He needs a chance.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who a day earlier gave Israel’s military a free hand to act against militants in the Gaza Strip, appeared to be providing Mr. Abbas just such a chance.

There was no sign yesterday of an expected incursion into the Gaza Strip to go after Hamas and other militants who have been firing rockets and mortars at Jewish settlements there and in southern Israel.

But the armed Palestinian groups denounced the order from Mr. Abbas, who will travel to Gaza today to open talks with the Islamic militant group Hamas on a unilateral halt to attacks on Israel.

Yesterday, Mr. Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia called an emergency meeting of the Palestinian Cabinet and security council to announce the crackdown on militants.

Mr. Abbas also called for an investigation into an attack last week at the Karni crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip where six Israeli civilians were killed.

He also said the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the military wing of the Fatah party that has carried out attacks on Israelis, will be absorbed into the Palestinian security services.

A delegation of dovish Israeli parliamentarians and political leaders visited Mr. Abbas in Ramallah yesterday to promote what is known as the Geneva peace initiative.

Yossi Beilin, chairman of the left-wing Yachad party, criticized Mr. Sharon’s decision over the weekend to suspend contacts with the Palestinian president.

But in the rocket-scarred city of Sderot, there were calls for Mr. Sharon to send the army into Gaza to silence the militants.

Businesses in the municipality closed for the day in memory of the victims of recent Kassam rocket attacks. Flags were lowered to half-staff, and public officials wore black armbands.

“Abu Mazen must understand that we’re not willing to sacrifice even one hair of the children of Israel to help him lay the groundwork for his rule,” said Israeli President Moshe Katsav, referring to Mr. Abbas by a popular nickname during a visit to Sderot.

“I believe in his sincerity when he says that he wants to stop terrorism, but we’re tired of declarations.”

Yuval Steinitz, head of the parliament’s defense and foreign affairs committee, said Mr. Abbas needs to start acting against terrorism “within days,” and should finish the job in a matter of months. The Palestinian president needs to confront the groups on the ground rather than at the negotiating table, he said.

“This will not suffice,” he said. “This means that they will be able to operate here and there, and they will be able to blackmail them. It’s in the interest in most people, and even the Palestinians themselves,” that the militants be disarmed.

But a spokesman for Hamas said the statement by the Palestinian president was likely to create tension between the Palestinian Authority and the militants.

Ghazi Hamad, the editor of a Hamas weekly newspaper, said the order to stop attacks on Israelis was premature, coming ahead of cease-fire talks between Hamas and Mr. Abbas. The militant groups expect Mr. Abbas to provide guarantees of a moratorium on Israeli incursions into Palestinian cities before it agrees to any cease-fire.

“He cannot take a decision now before talking with Hamas and the other factions about the situation,” Mr. Hamad said. “He needs to reach a compromise.”

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