A day after firing his top security commanders, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was going to the Gaza Strip on Friday to confront militant leaders with a demand they stop attacking Israelis, an aide said.
The central committee of Abbas’ Fatah movement also announced a state of emergency in the Palestinian security forces, a move aimed at preventing new attacks.
The attempts to stamp out the violence came after a sustained rocket and mortar barrage on Jewish settlements Thursday that threatened to unravel the cease-fire with Israel just days after it was announced.
Israel praised Abbas’ swift action but said it had only limited patience before it would take matters into its own hands.
Despite the renewed tension, Palestinian and Israeli officers met late Thursday at a Gaza crossing point to discuss cooperation. Israel Radio reported that the Israelis demanded a halt to the mortar and rocket fire, and the Palestinians spelled out their security plans.
As part of his efforts to end the violence, Abbas on Thursday fired Brig. Gen. Abdel Razek Majaidie, chief of public security, and police chief Saeb al-Ajed, security officials said. Abbas fired a total of nine officers, according to a statement from the Palestinian news agency.
He also planned talks in Gaza on Friday with leaders of militant groups. Cabinet Secretary Hassan Abu Libdeh said Abbas would “inform them that there is only one Palestinian Authority and one leadership, and (he) will not accept any measures that can subject our national project to danger.”
Abu Libdeh added: “The Palestinian Authority will not tolerate any actions that will sabotage the agreement reached with Israelis on a mutual cease-fire.”
Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim praised Abbas for dismissing the officers, but called on the Palestinian leader to take tougher action against the militants, saying the “window of opportunity is closing.”
“We still have a policy of restraint and civil gestures in order to strengthen him (Abbas), but it must be remembered this won’t last forever. He has to take action,” Boim told Israel Radio on Friday.
Hamas claimed responsibility Thursday for salvos 30 mortars and 26 rockets, one of the biggest barrages in four years of violence aimed at two settlements in southern Gaza. The military said there were no casualties. Israeli TV stations showed video of minor damage to some houses.
Hamas said the barrage was retaliation for the death of two Palestinians on Wednesday. One blew himself up with a bomb he was apparently trying to plant, and the other was shot dead by soldiers as he approached a settlement.
Palestinian lawmaker Ziad Abu Zayyad said Hamas was probably trying to strengthen its political position with the heavy bombardment. He said Israel must continue to show restraint.
“Israel has to refrain from any actions that could ignite the ground, that could be used as an excuse to torpedo the actions being taken by the Palestinian leadership,” Abu Zayyad told Israel’s Army Radio.
Also Thursday, armed Palestinians stormed the main Palestinian Authority jail in Gaza and killed three prisoners, part of a clan feud. Abbas took that, as well, as an affront.
“These are very dangerous developments, and they violate the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority,” Abu Libdeh said. “No one can continue with these violations.”
At a summit Tuesday in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Abbas declared an end to all violence and military operations.
In the wake of the barrages, Sharon’s office called Egyptian, U.S. and Palestinian officials to express concern, and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz warned, “If the Palestinians don’t know how to deal with it, we shall do it.”
Abbas has said all the Palestinian groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have signed on to the truce, but leaders of the two, responsible for dozens of suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis, deny that.
Up to now, Abbas has insisted he will not confront the militant groups and disarm them, as Israel and the internationally backed “road map” peace plan demand, preferring negotiations. However, he hinted that his patience has limits.
After a meeting late Thursday, the Fatah central committee announced a state of emergency and accused Hamas of violating the truce. “We are still committed to the language of dialogue, but at the same time, we warn against continuation of these irresponsible actions,” according to a statement from the body.
Abbas is committed to reforming the competing and overlapping security services. Last month he forcibly retired more than 1,000 veteran officers. Officials said Thursday’s dismissals were the direct result of the Hamas mortar and rocket salvos and the attack on the jail.