Opinions differ on Abbas's efforts against militants
Israel’s military intelligence chief praised Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday for his efforts to disarm militants, countering claims by the government, which has frozen plans to transfer responsibility for security.
“There is determined activity on his part in terms of his aims and intentions,” General Aharon Zeevi told public radio. “Abu Mazen [Abbas] has changed the people in his office, has limited incitement and made changes in the legal sphere.”
Zeevi’s assessment is in stark contrast to that of the government, which has repeatedly accused Abbas of failing to lift a finger against militant groups, which have been observing a de facto truce since January.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told visiting United States senators this week that Abbas is “completely avoiding taking significant steps to fight the terrorist organisations”.
Sharon’s security cabinet on Wednesday froze an agreement to hand over responsibility for security in any more of the West Bank, following the advice of Minister of Defence Shaul Mofaz, who has argued that no such transfers should take place until the Palestinians move to disarm militant groups.
But Zeevi pointed out that Abbas had only recently reshuffled the leadership of his security services and argued that they should be allowed more time to change their approach.
“He has completed the reforms of the security services and has urged security activity against the rockets.
We are seeing more efforts in this area,” Zeevi said.
“He is succeeding to maintain the calm, even if it is fragile.”
The head of military intelligence said Abbas is using tactics of persuasion and should not be expected to wage a head-on battle against Islamist movement Hamas, given its political and military might.
Hamas is itself being put to the test in municipal elections throughout the occupied territories seen as a litmus test of the movement’s popularity since it entered the democratic process for the first time in December.
Zeevi added that the Palestinian security services have begun disarming wanted militants in two towns in the West Bank where they are in charge.
Israel agreed in principle to hand over responsibility for security in five West Bank towns at a summit between Sharon and Abbas in February, but the transfer has so far taken place in only Jericho and Tulkarem.
“He is serious about resolving the problem of the wanted men in order to secure a renewal of the process of transferring the cities,” said Zeevi. “To the best of my knowledge, he has fulfilled his part in Jericho and is trying to do the same in Tulkarem.”
Many observers believe Sharon knows Abbas is not in a position to implement a formal campaign to disarm militant groups such as Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, whom he has persuaded to observe a truce at least until the end of the year for fear of sparking civil war.
Rashid Abu Shbak, head of Palestinian preventive security, said on Wednesday his forces will not disarm militant groups but will “take swift and decisive measures against those who are committing abuses on our streets in the name of the resistance”.
Israel, however, claims that Abbas gave assurances at the February summit to take weapons off militants who are being actively sought in towns that it hands over to the Palestinians.
The Israeli army launched its own operation in the Tulkarem area on Monday to arrest the suspected mastermind of a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, who had managed to escape from Palestinian custody.
The death toll from that operation rose to three on Thursday when an Islamic Jihad member died of injuries sustained in a gun battle that also claimed the lives of the escaped militant and a soldier.
Meanwhile, thousands of people gathered for the funerals of two Palestinian teenagers who were shot dead by the army at a protest against Israel’s West Bank barrier.
The commanding officer who decided to open fire with live bullets was suspended as an investigation was launched into the incident near the village of Beit Liqyah.—Sapa-AFP