Abbas sacks three security chiefs over rocket attack

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 11-Feb-05 | Author: Ian MacKinnon| Source: Times Online

An Israeli settler and an unexploded rocket at Neve Dekalim
MAHMOUD ABBAS, the Palestinian President, dismissed three security commanders yesterday after militants launched rockets and mortars at Jewish settlements in Gaza.

The attack came less than 36 hours after Mr Abbas pledged to halt all hostile actions against Israelis when he shook hands with Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, and made a mutual ceasefire declaration at the Egyptian-sponsored summit in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Mr Abbas had deployed thousands of Palestinian forces throughout the Gaza Strip to prevent just such attacks. The militant Islamic organisation Hamas said its members had started the barrage in response to the death of a 20-year- old Palestinian on Wednesday from wounds he received when Israeli troops opened fire as he approached a fence guarding a Jewish settlement, and to the death of one of its fighters near Khan Younis as he handled a bomb that went off.

Hamas said that it fired 20 Qassam rockets and 36 mortar shells towards the Gaza settlements of Neve Dekalim, Gedid, Atzmona and Morag. There were no injuries.

A Palestinian security official said Mr Abbas had taken “punitive measures against officers who did not undertake their responsibilities”. Those dismissed included the public security chief for the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian Authority police chief and the commander of the security forces in the southern Gaza Strip.

The incident emphasised the precarious nature of the fledgeling peace. Security officials in Israel made calls to Cairo and Washington about the attacks. Palestinian officials were also contacted and told that if the attacks did not cease immediately Israeli forces would have to retaliate.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad had held back for nearly three weeks to allow Mr Abbas to win concessions from Israel during the talks. Hours before the attacks yesterday they said they would maintain calm until meeting Mr Abbas to discover details of his summit talks.

In another challenge to the President’s authority highlighting the state of lawlessness in Gaza, a dozen armed Palestinians burst into a jail in the city and after a firefight with guards killed three inmates.

Mr Abbas issued “strict instructions” to his security forces to halt the firing from Gaza and said that he was considering a series of unspecified “decisions and measures” to ensure that his orders were obeyed.

A senior aide accused militants of trying to sabotage the summit’s truce declarations at the urging of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamic movement.

“We know Hezbollah is paying (Palestinian) parties and instructing them to destroy the Sharm el-Sheikh accords,” the official said. “We ask Israel to be aware of this situation and not react to such attacks.”

Israeli government sources expressed concern over the attacks but the muted response reflected the determination to give the peace moves a chance. Last night Palestinian and Israeli officials held a further meeting at a Gaza checkpoint to discuss security co-operation.

In an interview with the newspaper Haaretz before yesterday’s attacks, Mr Sharon indicated that he was prepared to release large numbers of Palestinian prisoners convicted of attacks on Israel if the withdrawal of Israelis settled in Gaza, due in the summer, was allowed to proceed smoothly.