Conal Urquhart in Jerusalem
Monday January 17, 2005
GuardianThe Israeli government has reportedly ordered the army to resume assassinating Palestinian militants in Gaza after three days of violence.
Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, said the army had been told to take action against terrorism "without restrictions, I emphasise, without restrictions".
Israeli media reported yesterday that government officials were saying the prime minister's remarks referred to assassinations and all other strategies used by the army.
Israel cut ties with the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, better known as Abu Mazen, on Friday, after it accused Palestinian police officers of aiding militants who killed five Israelis at the Karni checkpoint in the Gaza Strip.
The gunmen passed through Palestinian police lines with false identity cards before the attack on the Israeli side of the checkpoint.
Abu Mazen condemned the incident and yesterday the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation appealed for militants to halt attacks.
The committee "demanded halting all military acts that harm our national interests and provide excuses to Israel, which wishes to obstruct Palestinian stability".
The Palestinian leader made clear to voters that he intended to bring the armed intifada to an end, but insisted that the correct way to achieve a ceasefire was through negotiation rather than coercion.
He plans to travel to Gaza on Wednesday to begin negotiations with the militant groups to halt the violence.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah factions have all indicated that they want to work with the new president and begin a ceasefire but only if Israel refrains from assassinations, invasions and house demolitions.
Israeli officials insist a ceasefire is not enough and that Abu Mazen must also arrest and disarm militants even though it might lead to a civil war in Palestinian society.
The Israeli army reduced its operations in Gaza after a tank shell killed seven teenagers on their way to pick strawberries this month.
Militants have continued to fire missiles at Israeli settlements and towns resulting in serious injuries to a 17-year-old girl and four-year-old boy on Saturday.
Analysts believe that Hamas and other groups are launching attacks as part of their bargaining strategy with Abu Mazen.
According to this view the attacks are a message to Israel and the Palestinian people that the militants still have the ability to hurt Israel and the only way to stop them is through negotiations.
Israeli military officials briefed reporters that they were considering carrying out raids in Gaza this week in retaliation. They said they would prefer minor raids rather than a full scale operation in order not to ruin Abu Mazen's credibility.
Last night, an Israeli tank shell hit a house in Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza, killing a 27-year-old man and his mother and seriously wounding his father, Palestinian medics said.
Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian foreign minister, said he was concerned that Israel was working to de-legitimise the new Palestinian president and obstruct his strategy to bring about peace and negotiations.
"At the same time that Abu Mazen says he will work hard to return to the peace track, Sharon declares a military escalation. I'm afraid Sharon will say that Abu Mazen is following Arafat's path and so they will not deal with Abu Mazen," he said.
At his inauguration in Ramallah on Saturday, Abu Mazen reiterated Palestinian demands for a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, but called for peace and co-existence with Israel.
The same day 46 election officials resigned, claiming they were threatened by supporters of Abu Mazen and forced to extend voting by two hours.
The new rules gave supporters of Abu Mazen and his Fatah party more opportunities to vote, but did not fundamentally affect the final tally, the officials said.
International observers, who have not made a final report into the conduct of the election, warned that such behaviour by Fatah supporters could have a disastrous effect on local and parliamentary elections due this year.
Ammar Dweik, the deputy chairman of the election commission, said: "I was personally threatened and pressured. I am therefore announcing my resignation publicly, so that everyone knows that in the upcoming legislative election this could happen again."
Hamas demanded an inquiry into the allegations and insisted whoever was responsible be held accountable. "These mass resignations put a big question mark on the credibility of the voter turnout and the results," it said in a statement.