Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz told Israel Public Radio on Tuesday: "There will be no new transfer of control as long as the question of the wanted terrorists is not addressed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) which has not disarmed them."

The minister highlighted the fatal shooting of an Israeli soldier on Monday during an arrest operation in the northern West Bank, in which a wanted Islamic Jihad resistance fighter was also killed.

Israel agreed in principle to hand over responsibility for security in five West Bank towns at a summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in February.

However, the transfer has so far taken place in only two West Bank towns - Jericho and Tulkarim - prompting Palestinian allegations that the Israelis are reneging on their commitments.

Mofaz's comments are a further illustration of a breakdown in relations between the two governments.

Road map threat 

A Sharon aide said on Tuesday that Israel would not move forward on the road map peace plan if Hamas participated in Palestinian legislative elections without disarming.

 

"Instead of disbanding the terrorist organisations, he is acting to strengthen them. He is not willing to fight them and is similarly unwilling to disband their infrastructures"

Ariel Sharon,
Israeli Prime Minister

"We are not getting involved in Palestinian politics, but we are saying that if Hamas participates in the elections and remains an armed group then we won't be able to advance in the peace process," Sharon aide Raanan Gissin said.

 

Sharon told two visiting senior US politicians on Monday, Senate Majority leader Bill Frist and former vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, that Abbas was doing nothing to combat hardline groups.

"Instead of disbanding the terrorist organisations, he is acting to strengthen them. He is not willing to fight them and is similarly unwilling to disband their infrastructures," Sharon said.

He acknowledged that Abbas had taken steps to persuade groups such as Hamas to refrain from anti-Israeli attacks, but he added that Abbas "is completely avoiding taking significant steps to fight the terrorist organisations".

Fighters arrested

For their part, Palestinian police arrested three Hamas fighters late on Monday, a few minutes after fighters fired two rockets at an Israeli town just outside Gaza.

Abbas has vowed to reform the
Palestinian security structure

In recent weeks, Abbas has also forced top security leaders into retirement, and promised to streamline and restructure the overlapping and competing security services, which grew increasingly corrupt during the chaos that accompanied the past four and a half years of fighting with Israel.

"The Palestinian Authority policy is clear. No one is above the law, and we will work until we put an end to the lawlessness in the Palestinian areas," Tawfik Abu Khusa, spokesman for Interior Minister Nassr Yousef, said.

Hamas protest

In related news, resistance group Hamas rejected Yousef's call to disarm after the minister stressed the need to withdraw all weapons from Palestinian streets.

Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhra, said such statements were not in line with the understanding forged by the PA with various groups.

"The Palestinian Authority policy is clear. No one is above the law, and we will work until we put an end to the lawlessness in the Palestinian areas"

Tawfik Abu Khusa,
Palestinian Interior Minister

Abu Zuhra supported the PA's efforts to improve law and order, but said it should not undermine the resistance movement.

"We have to draw a line between two types of weapons. The ones in possession of the resistance groups are legitimate and aimed at protecting Palestinians against aggression.
 
"Some Palestinian families and officials also have arms. These should be controlled," Abu Zuhra said.

Responsibility claimed

Meanwhile, the armed wing of the Palestinian al-Quds Brigades resistance group claimed responsibility on Monday for attacking Israeli soldiers at the southern gate of a Jewish settlement.

The al-Quds Brigades in a statement said two Israeli soldiers were hit when its fighters attacked Israeli soldiers at the Mourage settlement, and also targeted Israeli vehicles at the Kesofim settlement.

The group also claimed responsibility for the killing of the Israeli soldier on Sunday near Saida village.

In another development, the Israelis late on Monday lifted a ban on Palestinians entering Israel. The ban had been in effect since 21 April, before the Jewish Passover holiday.

Now about 11,000 Palestinian workers and merchants can enter.

Source: Agencies