- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Yasser Arafat’s security chief in the West Bank yesterday accused the United States of “blackmail,” citing its threat to suspend peace efforts until Palestinians arrest those behind the slaying of three U.S. officials in the Gaza Strip last year.

Jibril Rajoub, whose forces had enjoyed extensive training and equipping by CIA operatives in the late 1990s, also said the United States had been pressuring other nations to withhold funding for the Palestinian Authority until the roadside bombers are arrested.

“The Americans are pressuring everybody, even some Arab countries, not to pay the Palestinian people,” Mr. Rajoub said.

The Palestinian Authority, whose facilities have been depleted by repeated Israeli demolitions, receives 60 percent of its annual budget in assistance from Arab countries and the European Union. A cutoff in foreign aid is likely to cause the body to collapse.

In a press conference yesterday, Mr. Rajoub also said the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade — a group responsible for many recent suicide attacks on Israeli civilians — is part of the mainstream Fatah party founded by Mr. Arafat.

The suicide bomber who killed 11 persons late last month aboard a Jerusalem bus was from Al Aqsa’s Bethlehem cell.

The Palestinian Authority and its leaders until now had avoided admitting that the group fell under Fatah’s authority.

That allowed Fatah to distance itself from most suicide bombings, which it publicly condemns.

“You know that the Americans stopped their involvement waiting for the results of the investigation,” Mr. Rajoub said.

“I think that this is blackmail,” he said.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called the comments “ridiculous.”

He said everybody should take seriously the blast that killed three Americans and that the Palestinians should improve security.

The Oct. 15 roadside blast ripped apart a diplomatic car in the Gaza Strip, killing three American security guards.

Mr. Boucher also said the United States remains engaged in peacemaking.

The Gaza attack, which Mr. Rajoub deemed an “isolated” case, was condemned immediately by Palestinian officials, who say they are doing all they can to find those responsible.

Mr. Rajoub also condemned Palestinian suicide bombings, calling them a “mistake.”

But he said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon invites such actions through his army’s military operations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

American officials have said repeatedly they are disappointed with the level of cooperation from Palestinian security forces in the investigation.

Two senior U.S. envoys, John Wolf and David Satterfield, were in the region last week to promote the “road map” peace plan that aims for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel by 2005.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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