Our correspondent reported that a 600-strong Palestinian force fanned across different areas of Gaza and specifically searched cars to unearth the weapons.

 

Condemning the search-and-seize operation in an interview with Aljazeera, senior Hamas leader Dr Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi criticised the Palestinian authority’s decision to confiscate weapons used by resistance fighters in the Gaza Strip.

 

Al-Rantisi described the weapons as legitimate as they were directed against Israeli occupation forces.

 

He said the campaign was an American-Zionist demand aimed at serving the occupation forces. The Palestinian people would not keep silent on these actions, he warned.

 

Curfew

 

Israeli occupation authorities have also  imposed a curfew in central Hebron. This was a continuation of an illegal practice to ensure that Israeli settlers moved freely and easily in Palestinian territory, our correspondent said.

 

The peace process has not been able to ensure  the resumption of classes in the Palestinian Universities of Hebron and the Polytechnic. Our correspondent reported that the occupation forces had extended their closure for another month. They have already been shut for the last six months.

 

A group of Palestinian students barged into the universities despite their closure in an attempt to force the authorities to resume classes but in vain, the correspondent said.

 

In another blow to the ongoing peace process, the Israeli army has demolished a Palestinian house in Rafah, in its first such action in the Gaza Strip since the interim ceasefire declared in June, a Palestinian security source said.

  

The army demolished the three-storey house near the border with Egypt on Friday using bulldozers and without giving prior warning to residents, the source said.

  

Israeli forces also opened fire on Palestinian dwellings at the Khan Yunis refugee camp, and at a Palestinian security post, without causing any injuries, the source added.

 

Fatah upheaval

  

Meanwhile, Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan on Saturday demanded elections to the central committee of the resistance group Fatah, headed by Yasser Arafat.

 

Elections must be organised for the central committee, whose members were elected 13 years ago, " he said, adding that in its current form the central committee does not have the means to take decisions.

 

Dahlan, deputy Palestinian internal security minister, is an ally of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who offered his resignation from the central committee on Tuesday, only to have it rejected.

  

About the dissensions in Fatah, Dahlan said that "President Arafat is the only one who can take decisions concerning a reform of the Fatah.”

 

Dahlan demand adds new
dimension

Differences have cropped up within Fatah over Abbas’s negotiating stance with Israel, in particular over the crucial question of Palestinian prisoners, of whom the Israelis have so far refused to release more than 350 out of a total of 6,000.

 

Foreign tourists can travel again freely to the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem, which last week reverted to Palestinian control, an Israeli military spokesman said on Saturday.

  

On Wednesday the Israeli army transferred control of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, back to Palestinian police, while maintaining a ring of checkpoints around the city.