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July 15, 2007


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Palestinian militants renounce anti-Israel attacks

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Dozens of wanted Palestinian militants have made a rare pledge to halt anti-Israel attacks, officials said Sunday, in a deal that could bolster moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The pledge, part of a deal in which Israel offered an effective amnesty to the gunmen, was unveiled a day before Abbas is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem.

Israel handed the Palestinians a list of 189 militants, most from Abbas' secular Fatah party, saying it would stop hunting them if they pledged to cease activities against the Jewish state.

"All of the 189 people included on the list handed in by Israel" have signed, a senior Palestinian security official said.

Israel has said that if the men respect their promise for three months, and not leave West Bank areas under exclusive control of the Palestinian Authority, their names would be erased from the list of wanted men, and they would be able to join Palestinian Authority security services.

Included on the list was Zakaria Zubeidi, leader of the Fatah offshoot militant group the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the northern West Bank town of Jenin, Palestinian and Israeli officials have said.

Zubeidi said that all Al Aqsa militants on the list "have signed a pledge to stop their attacks against Israel. The Al Aqsa Brigades will not be an obstacle to any political project to solve the Palestinian question in a just manner."

The effective amnesty is the latest gesture by Israel to strengthen the moderate Abbas after forces loyal to him were overrun in Gaza by fighters from the Islamist movement Hamas, exactly a month ago.

"There are no other ways of helping Mahmoud Abbas except to allow modifications in the list of wanted Palestinians," Israel's deputy defense minister Matan Vilnai told army radio.

In another move, Olmert also favors allowing veteran Palestinian nationalist Nayef Hawatmeh, head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, to go to the occupied West Bank this week, an Israeli official said on condition of anonymity.

Hawatmeh would attend a "crucial" summit of the Palestine Liberation Organization, an umbrella group of several Palestinian movements, which is expected to discuss preparations for a general election.

It would mark the first visit by Damascus-based Hawatmeh to the Palestinian territories since they were captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Abbas and Olmert are due to hold talks Monday in Jerusalem, instead of the West Bank town of Jericho, as previously reported by the media, an Israeli official said.

A senior Palestinian official said that the meeting was "most likely" to take place Monday, with the two sides still discussing the location.

Following the bloody June 15 takeover of Gaza by Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, Israel has taken several steps aimed at bolstering Abbas in his West Bank stronghold.

During the last meeting between Abbas and Olmert June 25 in a four-way summit in Egypt, Israel announced that it was releasing some Palestinian custom duties that it had withheld for more than a year after Hamas came to power.

Around $118 million have since been paid out, allowing Abbas' emergency government, led by Salam Fayyad, to pay full monthly salaries to civil servants for the first time in more than a year.

The government has also agreed to free 250 Palestinian prisoners, the majority members of Abbas' Fatah movement, out of the more than 11,000 Palestinian prisoners currently in Israel.

The final list of those to be released will be ready in the coming days, the Israeli official said. -AFP

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