"The decision has been made to put members of the al-Aqsa Brigades in the Palestinian security services," the official said.

 

"Abu Mazin [Abbas] told us that this must happen as soon as possible."

 

The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed offshoot of Abbas' own Fatah movement, is the second largest of the Palestinian armed factions and has been behind hundreds of resistance attacks.

 

A Palestinian cabinet minister later said Abbas had ordered his security apparatus to prevent attacks on Israeli targets.

 

"Abu Mazin and the cabinet gave clear instructions to the security chiefs to prevent all kinds of violence, including attacks against Israel," minister without portfolio Qadura Faris said.

Earlier, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) called on other resistance groups to halt their attacks, saying they gave Israel an excuse to block the peace process.

But Hamas quickly dismissed the call to halt attacks, saying such a move helped Israel justify its military operations in the occupied territories.

 

"We are sorry to say that some people are using this name [the PLO] to issue a demand which is at odds with the aims of the Palestinian people," spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said. 

Harming national interest

As Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accused PLO chairman Abbas of doing nothing to stop attacks, the body's decision-making executive committee demanded on Sunday that armed factions stop "harming the national interest".

Sharon has given the Israeli
military carte blanche in Gaza

"The committee gave its full support to Abu Mazin's inauguration speech to stop all military acts that harm our national interest," the PLO executive committee said in a statement after meeting in the West Bank town of Ram Allah.

Such attacks merely "give an excuse to the Israeli position which is aimed at sabotaging Palestinian stability and the implementation of the road map", the committee added.

Abbas is due to travel on Wednesday to Gaza City, the stronghold of the Islamist movements Hamas and Islamic Jihad, for talks with their leaderships about securing a new ceasefire.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath has left Ram Allah for Cairo on a trip coinciding with a visit by Yaki Dayan, the top diplomatic adviser to the Israeli foreign minister, who is holding talks on the proposed Israeli withdrawal from Gaza with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Ghait.

Aljazeera's correspondent in Cairo reported that Egypt has flatly rejected an offer to settle Palestinians in the Hurghada desert near the Red Sea.

He quoted sources as saying that President Husni Mubarak had disclosed that he had rejected a "generous financial offer" to agree to settling Palestinians on Egyptian territory.

Plea for calm

The backdrop to the day's developments was Saturday's speech by Abbas, who, after being sworn in as Palestinian Authority president, criticised attacks by armed resistance groups as hampering efforts to "bring about the calm needed to enable a credible, serious peace process".

Uraiqat: Resuming talks is the
only way to stop the violence

A day earlier, Sharon had ordered a freeze on all contacts with the Palestinian Authority in the aftermath of a resistance attack on a border crossing between Gaza and Israel in which six Israelis were killed.

Three Palestinian factions claimed joint responsibility for the attack, including the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which is an armed offshoot of Abbas' own mainstream Fatah movement.

Fifteen people were also injured in the attack, the biggest since Abbas won the election to succeed Yasir Arafat as head of the Palestinian Authority.

Responsibility claimed

Hamas' military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, issued a statement claiming responsibility for firing two Qassam rockets at the Negev town of Sderot. 

Six Israeli civilians were killed in
Thursday's Karni crossing attack

In a separate statement, the movement claimed responsibility for firing another two Qassam rockets at the Eli Sinai settlement in the northern Gaza Strip. 

An Israeli spokesperson said no injuries were sustained in the rocket attacks.

Tel Aviv has expressed frustration that Abbas has failed to translate his verbal denunciations into action on the ground.

Sharon has said Abbas and the Palestinian Authority will not be considered a partner in the peace process unless they take concrete action to dismantle what he calls a "terrorist infrastructure".

Abbas has been an outspoken critic of the use of weapons in the second uprising, Al-Aqsa Intifada.

Rocket attacks

He has also angered Palestinian armed factions with his condemnation of frequent rocket attacks launched from Gaza at southern Israel or at settlements in the territory, saying that they usually cause more damage to Palestinian civilians. 

On Sunday, Sharon told a cabinet meeting that he had given the Israeli army carte blanche to crush armed Palestinian groups in Gaza.

Responding to the Israeli prime minister's announcement, Saib Uraiqat, Palestinian minister for negotiation, said: "Sharon's announcements should be treated seriously as they are very dangerous."

Speaking to Aljazeera from Ram Allah, he added: "Mahmud Abbas offered on Saturday an olive branch to Israel by asking it to resume negotiations and to implement on an equal and reciprocal basis the road map commitments, foremost of which is putting an end to violence.

"But what Sharon has declared is a scorched-earth policy, a move that may be considered a beginning of a comprehensive occupation, leading to real humanitarian disaster."

Israeli response

On the other hand, the Israel army's media spokesperson, speaking to Aljazeera by phone from Tel Aviv on Sharon's latest decision, said: "As an army of a democratic state, we are implementing the orders of the high political authorities.

Israel has staged a number of
attacks since Abbas' poll victory

"Any military activities that we undertake will be restricted to certain areas and aimed at protecting Israelis from terrorist attacks."

Questioned about Israel's insistence on Palestinian implementation of their peace road map commitments in the face of Palestinian accusations of Israeli non-compliance, the spokesman said: "We facilitated the movement of Palestinian voters a week ago during the presidential election which went off smoothly.

"But unfortunately, terrorist organisations exploit weak points and vital junctions like the Rafah and the Karni crossings, which are used by Palestinian farmers and are of benefit to Palestinians, to carry out terrorist operations.

The Israeli military spokesman added: "The infants of Gaza and Khan Yunus will not get milk tomorrow as the crossings will be closed due to these operations. The question should be directed at the terrorist organisations as their actions are unreasonable."

Palestinian rejoinder

Reacting to the Israeli military spokesman's charges, Palestinian minister Uraiqat said nothing justified imposing collective sanctions on 1.3 million Palestinians.

"If Israelis really
think they can reach a solution by imposing collective punishment, they are wrong"

Saib Uraiqat,
Palestinian negotiations minister

"Palestinian farmers' strawberry produce were blocked by Sunday's closure of the crossings. Palestinian infants are being threatened with collective punishment by depriving them from milk. This is an absolutely unacceptable and unjustifiable act," he said.

"If Israelis really think they can reach a solution by imposing collective punishment, they are wrong."

Saying that TV footage of Israeli snipers showed them shooting Palestinian children dead on Saturday in the Gaza Strip, Uraiqat added: "Military choices are not the solution as they only intensify the cycle of violence, chaos, extremism and carnage."