- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

TEL AVIV — More Palestinians have been killed this year by fellow Palestinians than by Israeli soldiers, according to a Palestinian government report released this week.

In the latest sign that chaos in the Gaza Strip and West Bank is displacing the uprising against Israel at the top of the Palestinian agenda, the Palestinian Authority’s Interior Ministry said 219 Palestinians died in internal clashes during the first nine months of 2005, compared with 218 who were killed in battling Israeli forces during the same period.

The report gives the Palestinian Authority more reason to enforce a ban on militants carrying weapons in the open. It comes on the eve of President Mahmoud Abbas’ highly touted visit to Washington this week, where he will meet with President Bush.

The situation with Israel remains tense, as Israel suspended all security contacts and sealed off part of the West Bank yesterday after gunmen killed three settlers in the deadliest attack in months.

Israeli security forces also killed a senior Islamic militant as a shaky cease-fire of eight months came under increasing strain, the Reuters news agency reported.

“As a result of [Sunday’s] attacks, we are taking defensive action,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

“There is a temporary suspension of contacts between the defense ministry and military personnel and Palestinian counterparts.”

The Palestinian report on internecine violence suggests that the greater danger to a fledgling state could come from warring factions within the Palestinian movement.

Palestinian Authority officials say the prohibition on carrying guns is the first step in a drive to collect illegal weapons, a prerequisite for restarting negotiations according to the U.S.-sponsored “road map” to a lasting peace deal with Israel.

“We want to say to our people that illegal arms only bring us trouble and disturb the peace,” said Tawfik Abu Khoussa, an Interior Ministry spokesman.

Public frustration with anarchy in Palestinian cities and towns has been on the rise in recent weeks amid clashes between security forces and militants of the Islamic group Hamas.

The Palestinian Authority must also rein in armed gangs connected with the ruling Fatah party, which have been accused of carrying out mafialike hits on rival strongmen.

Fatah gunmen have also kidnapped Western journalists — most recently a reporter for the Knight-Ridder news service and a freelance photographer last week — as a tool to negotiate for money and jobs from the Palestinian government.

“The Palestinian Authority is trying to deliver a message that they are serious about imposing law and order. How efficient it is, is difficult to judge at this stage,” said Salah Abdel Shafi, a Gaza political analyst.

“On the [public relations] level, they’re becoming more aggressive. They are trying to create public opinion against forces like Hamas and opposition forces,” he said.

According to a recent Palestinian survey, some 82 percent of Gazans said they support Mr. Abbas’ efforts to restore law and order. Public approval of the Palestinian president jumped seven percentage points over the past six months, suggesting that he has popular support for wide-ranging weapons confiscations.

But Mr. Abbas has only limited power to force militants to give up their arms.

Palestinian security forces are poorly armed and are too fractured to enforce a crackdown, analysts say. But the Palestinian president is under pressure to sooth frustration about continued lawlessness that could undermine his own rule.

“The biggest proof about the failure of the government is in the continuation of the state of security chaos,” wrote Hani El Masri, in Al-Ayyam, a Palestinian newspaper.

“The kidnapping of foreign journalists … and other incidents indicate the weakness of the Palestinian Authority in protecting its citizens.”

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