- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank The new Palestinian security chief said yesterday he wants to "put an end" to militias involved in shooting and bombing attacks on Israelis.

Separately, Israel said it would begin construction tomorrow on a fence along the northern West Bank to block suicide bombers from entering the Jewish state.

Palestinian Gen. Abdel Razak Yehiyeh, who was appointed interior minister in a weekend Cabinet reshuffle, said he would first engage in dialogue with the armed groups. Gen. Yehiyeh did not say how he would proceed if his appeals go unheeded.

"We should put an end to all the militias. We should end it completely," Gen. Yehiyeh said in an interview with the Associated Press a day after he was sworn in. "I will not agree in any way to pollute the name of the Palestinian people with terrorism."

The attacks have been carried out by the military wings of the various Palestinian factions, including the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

Gen. Yehiyeh did not say how he would handle the militias, and it was not immediately clear how much authority he was being given by Mr. Arafat.

The Cabinet reshuffle, including the appointment of new interior and finance ministers, are part of reforms sought by the United States as a prerequisite for future diplomacy.

In the reshuffle, Mr. Arafat reduced the size of the Cabinet from 31 to 21 ministers, adding five new members, but keeping in place several who have been accused of engaging in corruption.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, meanwhile, said he has resumed contacts with Palestinian officials, but has no plans now to talk to Mr. Arafat.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ruled out peace negotiations with the Palestinians until all violence stops and has banned talks with Mr. Arafat, charging that he is responsible for Palestinian attacks.

Israel's Defense Ministry meanwhile, said yesterday said it would begin construction tomorrow of a 75-mile fence along one-third of the unmarked frontier with the West Bank.

The fence is designed to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen who have killed more than 520 Israelis in the past 21 months of fighting. In the same period, more than 1,700 people have been killed on the Palestinian side.

There were signs of tension in Israel's coalition over the fence, which the Defense Ministry said would more or less run alongside the so-called Green Line Israel's border before the capture of the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East War.

Jewish settler leaders and right-wing parties in Mr. Sharon's coalition demanded that fences instead be built around Palestinian towns and cities.

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