- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 16, 2005

JERUSALEM — Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas appealed yesterday to militant groups to halt their attacks on Israel and recommit themselves to a Middle East truce left in tatters by a wave of violence over the past week.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops massed yesterday outside Gaza as Hamas militants in the volatile coastal strip launched volleys of mortar shells and homemade rockets at Israeli targets for the third straight day.

An Israeli raid into Gaza would make it far more difficult to re-establish the five-month truce and could lead to a breakdown in coordination between the two sides just a month before Israel begins its planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian officials have said they would prevent attacks against Israeli forces by militants — who are eager to prove they are pushing Israel out of Gaza — during the pullout scheduled for mid-August. But their failure to stop the mortar and rocket attacks raised questions about their ability to keep that promise.

Speaking from his Gaza City office in an address on Palestinian television last night, Mr. Abbas said the cease-fire agreement was in the best interests of Palestinians.

“I call upon all the Palestinian factions and forces to renew and to declare their commitment to what we had agreed upon, to respect the [Palestinian] Authority … and to obey the truce,” he said. “We are not going to allow anyone to gamble with our national cause.”

Hamas spokesman Musher al Masri said the attacks on Israel were an effort to “prove to the enemy that Palestinian blood is not cheap.” He did not say whether Hamas would return to the cease-fire.

In response to the growing violence, Egypt decided to send Mustafa Behairy, a top intelligence official, to Gaza today to meet with Mr. Abbas and Hamas leaders in an effort to restore calm, according to Egyptian officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of damaging the mediation effort.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also changed her schedule to include a last-minute trip to the region, expected this week.

As part of its crackdown on militants following a Palestinian suicide bombing and fatal rocket attack that killed six Israelis, Israel arrested more than 30 wanted men early yesterday in the West Bank cities of Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus and Tulkarem, the army said. Israel also continued to prevent Palestinians from crossing into Israel from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

“Israel will not forfeit its basic right to self-defense, especially in the face of a continued and persistent Palestinian refusal to prevent terrorist attacks against Israel,” said David Baker, an official in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office.

On Friday, Israel resumed its targeted killings of militants, which had been suspended under the truce, killing seven Hamas operatives in air strikes and a follow-up raid in Gaza and the West Bank. Another Palestinian was fatally shot by soldiers after he threw stones at them, hospital officials said.

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