Saturday, 12 February 2005

Abbas to push militants to stick to ceasefire

Saturday, February 12, 2005 - Page A13

Special to The Globe and Mail, with a report from AP

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK -- Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas left for the Gaza Strip last night to push militants to adhere to the fragile ceasefire with Israel, while the focus of international peacemaking shifted to next month's reconstruction conference.

Mr. Abbas plans to meet with members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad today in an effort to enforce the ceasefire he reached with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last week in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. But the militants insisted that they will stop their attacks only when they are satisfied that Israel will stop pursuing them and release Palestinian prisoners.

"Hamas still wants a truce, but needs this truce to be with Israeli obligations," spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Israel has pledged to cease all its military activity against all Palestinians everywhere, and vowed to release 900 of the 8,000 Palestinian prisoners it is holding. But Hamas and Islamic Jihad say they are withholding approval of the agreement.

Mr. Abbas fired dozens of Palestinian senior security officials in Gaza this week for failing to stop a barrage of mortars on Jewish settlements. Israeli officials praised the move, but warned yesterday they have limited patience for such violence. "We still have a policy of restraint and civilian gestures in order to strengthen [Mr. Abbas], but it must be remembered this won't last forever," deputy defence minister Zeev Boim told Israel Radio.

As the sides work to sort out the truce on the ground, the diplomatic focus is turning toward London, where international donors are to meet March 1 to discuss how to rebuild the shattered Palestinian economy.

The meeting, organized by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, will also look at ways to bolster the Palestinian security forces, whose equipment and buildings have been devastated by Israeli attacks during the 4-year intifada.

"We want to use that meeting to help the Palestinians build the institutions which they will need to build in turn and to govern a viable state, and we want to help Abu Mazen and his ministers respond effectively to Israel's disengagement from Gaza and the four settlements in the West Bank," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said yesterday, referring to the Palestinian leader by his nom de guerre.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew announced this week that he will attend the London conference, where he will join U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and counterparts from the European Union, several Arab states and other senior officials from the international community.

Israeli officials said yesterday that although they support the conference, they will not attend.

"We wish the conference every success and we will help to implement its decisions where we can, but we do not think it is appropriate for us to be there physically," an aide to Mr. Sharon said.

In preparation for the conference, the Palestinian Authority has drawn up a thick dossier setting out its needs for the next three years.

The dossier was drawn by the Palestinian finance ministry and ministry of planning in consultation with the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program. It calls for $1.5-billion (U.S.) in international aid each year. One-third of the money is to come from the United States, but Canada, Russia and European Union countries have also been given the dossier.

Palestinian officials said this week that Mr. Pettigrew has offered to accommodate senior Palestinian police officers on RCMP training courses, either in Canada or the Palestinian territories.

"The Canadians in the past did play an active role in this field, and I'm pretty sure that we do need their assistance and I'm pretty sure that they will have a role to play in the future -- either in the issue of reorganizing or supplying with equipment to the security services or in other fields," said General Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian National Security Council.

Mr. Pettigrew also discussed Canadian assistance in children's development, judicial reform and improving local government.

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