Tuesday, Jun 10, 2003
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By Atul Aneja
At a news conference in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Monday, Mr. Abbas called upon all Palestinian factions to halt armed attacks and resume dialogue. Mr. Abbas' appeal acquires significance as key Palestinian factions, the Fatah, the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad jointly plotted the attack on Israeli soldiers. Four Israeli troops and the three Palestinian attackers were killed during the incident. The joint Palestinian attack is being interpreted here as a clear signal to Mr. Abbas by the three groups that they do not endorse his commitments, made on the behalf of Palestinians, at Aqaba.
At the recent Aqaba summit, Mr. Abbas renounced armed struggle as a means to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. Besides, he called for demilitarising the Palestinian society, by declaring that only designated official authorities should possess weapons.
The much talked about meeting between Mr. Abbas and the Hamas leadership on Monday, where the latter was expected to declare a ceasefire against Israelis has also fizzled out. Alarmed by this development, the Egyptian intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, who has been a player in the intra-Palestinian interaction in the past, is rushing to the Palestinian territories to get the dialogue between Mr. Abbas and the Hamas back on track.
The Palestinian Prime Minister also made two explicit points at the press conference to bolster his standing among the Palestinian hardliners. First, he reasserted that there was no dilution in the Palestinian demand for the return of the Palestinian refugees, displaced mainly by the earlier rounds of Arab-Israeli wars, back to their homeland. He also reportedly said that Israel should remove its settlements on Palestinian lands that it occupied in the 1967 war. Despite his utterances, there is very little that Mr. Abbas, at present, can do to force the Palestinian armed groups to get on board. Among the Palestinian armed organisations, the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), Yasser Arafat, tightly controls the Fatah, the Fatah Tanzeem and the Al Aqsa martyrs brigade.
As of now, Mr. Abbas just does not have the firepower to confront these organisations or Mr. Arafat, even if he wants.
There are reports that Mr. Abbas's security chief, Mohammad Dahlan, is working with the U.S. to resurrect a new Palestinian security force that owes its prime loyalty to Mr. Abbas. Under this three-phased plan, Mr. Dahlan, according to an agency report, hopes to acquire the weapons with the Palestinian armed groups by offering them $6,000 per weapon.
Those so disarmed, under the second phase of the plan, will be drafted into the new Palestinian security forces. They, after receiving training under the guidance of the U.S. personnel, will be deployed along the Palestinian - Israeli border areas.
In order to prevent this group from monopolising the Palestinian security forces, Mr. Dahlan hopes to create a new internal security force for the Palestinian territories.
It is envisaged that none of the armed activists of the Palestinian factions will be part of this new and well-trained force.
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