Violence shakes Mideast truce

The interim truce in the Palestinian territories seemed to flounder on Thursday following the killing of a Palestinian fighter by Israeli troops and the firing on a Jewish settlement that injured three settlers.

    Truce shaky following encounters

    Israeli occupation forces re-blocked the main north-south road in the Gaza Strip, only two days after they had opened it.


    A Palestinian official said two barricades were set up near the Israeli settlements of Kfar Darom and Gush Katif.  


    An Israeli army spokesman said the road would remain blocked for three hours after three Jewish settlers were wounded on Wednesday night when four anti-tank shells were fired in the Gaza Strip.


    Abbas' condemnation


    Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack on the Jewish settlement and the killing of a foreign worker in the West Bank as "acts of sabotage."


    "These are acts of sabotage which we reject," Abbas told journalists accompanying him on a visit to Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip.


    Abbas was referring to the foreign construction worker of Bulgarian origin who was shot dead on Monday in Jenin by fighters belonging to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.


    Israeli violations


    Palestinian security sources charged that Israeli troops still posted in and around the Gaza Strip had violated agreements several times over the past 24 hours.


    They cited the overnight closure of the main north-south road, two shootings against farmers in the south and east of Jabalya, as well as insufficient efforts to let Palestinians through the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.


    Israel too issued a formal protest to the Palestinians over what it called the violation of a truce.


    The exchanges between the two sides came within hours after Palestinian security forces returned to the streets of Bethlehem on Wednesday after Israel withdrew and handed over responsibility to the Palestinians for control of the West Bank town.


    The three-month truce announced by Palestinian resistance groups depends on the Israeli army halting attacks into the West Bank and Gaza strip, stopping assassinations and house demolitions and the release of Palestinian prisoners.


    Prisoners set free


    Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, a Hamas leader has said the truce would collapse if Israel failed to release all its thousands of Palestinian prisoners by the end of the ceasefire.


    Israel freed on Thursday Colonel Suleiman Abu Mutlaq, the third-ranking commander of the Gaza Palestinian Preventive security forces, and he was allowed back into Gaza. He had been suspected by Israel of involvement in attacks on Israelis.


    Israel also released 33 prisoners who the army said had served their terms.


    But neither Israelis nor Palestinians described the releases as gestures for peace. The army spokesman said a military judge ordered Abu Mutlaq released "for lack of evidence."


    Palestinian Security Minister Mohammad Dahlan said the release of Abu Mutlaq was "a correction of a mistake that should never have been made."


    The army said the other 33 had been released on routine legal grounds although many had been arrested only last week for suspected "involvement in terrorist activities".


    Dahlan demanded Israel release at least 460 prisoners, who he said had served more than 20 years in prison.


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