Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat on Monday refused his cabinet’s call to use the Palestinian security forces against terror organizations.
At a heated emergency meeting in Arafat’s Muqata compound in Ramallah – called in response to the suicide bombing in Ashdod Port two days ago, for which both Fatah and Hamas claimed responsibility – Interior Minister Hakem Balawi and the commander of the National Security forces, Haj Ismail Jabbar, both called upon Arafat to act against Hamas and Fatah’s military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Other ministers joined the call, warning Arafat of Israel’s expected harsh response to the attack and the international community’s reaction to the continuing chaos in the territories.
The ministers sought the authority to arrest Fatah activists acting independently and to apply all stages of a plan to restore control of the Palestinian street to the security forces. One Palestinian source in the cabinet said that some ministers even warned Arafat that Fatah members might be drafted into Hamas in Gaza. They also made it clear that the PA had lost control of Fatah’s military wing in some areas of both the West Bank and Gaza.
But according to the source, Arafat refused to allow arrests of Fatah activists and also turned down other aspects of the plan, such as the collection of illegal arms.
Hints of the disagreement at the meeting came out through the report of the PA’s official news service, Wafa, which answers directly to Arafat. In reporting the meeting, Wafa stated that “the Palestinian government, headed by Yasser Arafat, met in Ramallah.” Only later did the report mention that Palestinian Premier Ahmed Qureia “also participated in the meeting.”
Some ministers, who reportedly anticipated the mood at the meeting, did not attend.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will meet Tuesday morning with the political-security cabinet to discuss responses to the Ashdod Port bombing, in which 10 people were killed. An angry Sharon has reportedly asked the IDF to prepare a more severe response than usual.
Sources in Jerusalem said Monday that the helicopter attack in which two missiles were fired against metal workshops in Gaza City early Monday morning would not be considered a sufficient response.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who returned Monday from a trip to the United States, instructed security chiefs to “step up the offensive against Hamas.” The sources said that targeted assassinations against Hamas leaders will be increased.
The previous round of targeted assassinations, in 2003 – about which the chief of staff said at the time, “the owner of the house has gone mad” – was considered a success by the defense establishment: Hamas moderated its activities for a few months.
Defense officials also decided to step up ground attacks along the lines of those the IDF has been carrying out in the Gaza Strip for the past year and a half, and IDF forces will reportedly be deepening their raids at the brigade level. However, Israel is not planning a large-scale and continuous operation in the Strip.
Mofaz moved up his return to Israel a few hours to hold an evaluation of the situation with security chiefs ahead of this morning’s cabinet meeting.
A senior defense official noted that the Ashdod attack was “a step up” in the pattern of Hamas activities. Although the bombing was carried out by both Fatah and Hamas, Hamas is believed to have led the planning and implementation. The source said that Israel therefore also had to ratchet up its response a notch.
On Monday, the IDF beefed up its forces in the Strip, although IDF sources said that no large ground operation was expected to begin during the night.