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Abbas in TV peace plea as violence puts Israel's Gaza withdrawal at risk

Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters in Gaza
Sunday July 17, 2005
 
 
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas went on television yesterday to try to stem militant attacks on Israel and the spiralling violence that threatens to derail the ceasefire deal ahead of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza next month.

Abbas told the militants he would not tolerate any further internal fighting or violations of the ceasefire. He spoke to the Palestinian people in the wake of fresh missile strikes by Israel in Gaza early yesterday, a day after it killed six Hamas militants and vowed to keep targeting gunmen to prevent rocket attacks ahead of the Gaza withdrawal.

The latest air raid injured two Palestinian bystanders and destroyed three workshops in Gaza City and the Khan Younis refugee camp, which the Israelis said was used by Hamas to produce weapons - an accusation denied by Palestinians.

Militants hit back, firing two rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot, near the Gaza Strip. One of the rockets slammed into the courtyard of a house but no one was hurt, the army said. The other landed in an empty field.

A flare-up of violence in Gaza and the West Bank began on Tuesday when a Palestinian suicide bomber killed five in an attack in the coastal town of Netanya. The violence has undermined a cessation to hostilities declared by Israel and the Palestinian Authority last February.

It has also raised the prospect of a disruption to Israel's planned pull-out of 8,500 settlers from occupied Gaza next month which had stirred hopes of reviving Middle East peace.

One Israeli woman was killed and two others wounded in rocket barrages on Israeli towns and villages near Gaza over the past two days. The Israeli army said that, since Thursday, militants have fired 25 rockets and 52 mortars.

Palestinian interior minister Nasser Yousef said the Israeli mis sile strikes were unjustified. He added that the Palestinian leadership was trying to salvage the truce which he said no faction had the right to end.

Faced with a collapsing truce, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories this week to 'encourage both sides to take appropriate steps to restore order', a spokesman said. 'They need to make a maximum effort ... individually and working together, to ensure that this withdrawal is a successful withdrawal,' said the State Department official.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said his forces would end attacks by Gaza militants ahead of the withdrawal with the evacuation of all 21 settlements in Gaza.

Israeli military officials have said in the past they would carry out raids and possibly reoccupy Palestinian areas near the settlements due to be evacuated to prevent the withdrawal from taking place under fire.

Israel massed military vehicles around Gaza late on Friday, and news reports quoted security sources as saying the Jewish state might raid militant strongholds in the area to stop rocket launchers. 'The pull-out cannot commence under fire,' Sharon said in a TV interview on Friday. Hamas has warned that the air strikes would 'open the doors of hell' on Israel and said it was reconsidering its commitment to the truce.

Source: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,1530202,00.html

Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005