RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview published Thursday that the al-Qaida terror network has infiltrated the
Gaza Strip and West Bank, which could have dire consequences for the Middle East.
Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in response Thursday that
Israel was intensifying its “war” against al-Qaida.
Abbas said in an interview with the London-based Al Hayat newspaper that he had not expected al-Qaida would succeed in setting up operations in the Palestinian areas.
“We have signs of an al-Qaida presence in the West Bank and Gaza,” Abbas said, without elaborating. “We haven’t yet reached the stage of capturing them.”
“The infiltration of al-Qaida can ruin the whole region,” he added.
Asked to comment on Abbas’ remarks, Olmert said Israel was aware of al-Qaida’s attempts to set up operations on its borders.
“There are, of course, attempts by terror elements, including international ones, to extend their reach in areas adjacent to us,” Olmert told reporters in Jerusalem, adding he did not know what information Abbas’ remarks were based on.
“We are systematically intensifying our war,” he said, adding that “all restraints have been lifted on security forces where preventing and thwarting (terror) is concerned.”
Israel has in the past warned that al-Qaida was operating in the Gaza Strip, and arrested a Palestinian allegedly working with the group.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in September, relinquishing control of the border crossing with Egypt through which many Palestinians enter Gaza.
Osama bin Laden has repeatedly cited Israel as a target, and the Palestinian cause as one of the reasons for the network’s attacks.
Last year, Jordan’s King Abdullah said he was convinced al-Qaida had set up terror cells in Israel.