- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2005

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, reacting forcefully to Hamas rocket and mortar fire in the Gaza Strip that defied a cease-fire with Israel, dismissed his top security commanders yesterday and sent a message to the militants that he will not tolerate further truce violations.

Among about 20 senior officers who lost their jobs were the top two commanders, Brig. Gen. Abdel Razek Majaidie, chief of public security, and police chief Saeb al-Ajed, security officials said, a sign that Mr. Abbas is serious about enforcing the two-day-old truce.

Hamas took responsibility for salvos of rockets and mortars — 30 mortars and 26 rockets, one of the biggest barrages in four years of violence — aimed at the Israeli settlements of Neve Dekalim and Gedid in southern Gaza. The Israeli military said there were no casualties.

Hamas said the barrage was retaliation for the death of two Palestinians on Wednesday. One blew himself up with a bomb he apparently had been trying to plant and the other was fatally shot by Israeli soldiers as he approached a settlement.

A Palestinian official, however, blamed Hezbollah for the attacks, saying the Iranian-backed militia is deliberately trying to undermine the fledgling Israeli-Palestinian truce announced this week.

“We know that Hezbollah is pushing some parties among the Palestinians to destroy the agreement that was declared at Sharm el Sheik,” said the senior Palestinian official, who requested anonymity.

The comment comes on the heels of a visit by Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath to Damascus to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire with the Syrian government. Syria virtually controls Lebanon, where Hezbollah is based.

In another incident yesterday, armed Palestinians stormed the main Palestinian Authority jail in Gaza and killed three prisoners as part of a clan feud.

Mr. Abbas sent a stern warning to the militants after dismissing his security commanders. And he postponed a trip to Gaza yesterday to meet with militant leaders.

Palestinian Cabinet Secretary Hassan Abu Libdeh said Mr. Abbas would meet today with the militant leaders in Gaza and “inform them that there is only one Palestinian Authority and one leadership.”

“The Palestinian Authority will not tolerate any actions that will sabotage the agreement reached with Israelis on a mutual cease-fire,” he added.

Israel, which has linked further progress in peace talks to Mr. Abbas’ ability to control militants, called for an immediate end to the violence.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon contacted Egyptian, U.S. and Palestinian officials yesterday to express concern. “We informed them we expect the Palestinians to act immediately against these attacks,” said Asaf Shariv, an aide to Mr. Sharon.

In the presence of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah II in Sharm el Sheik on Tuesday, Mr. Sharon and Mr. Abbas declared an end to violence after four years of bloodshed.

Mr. Abbas has said all Palestinian groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have signed on to the truce. But leaders of the two groups deny that.

Joshua Mitnick contributed to this article.


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