Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that Israel would “not look the other way” on a plot by a terrorist cell from Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction to attack his convoy this past summer in the West Bank city of Jericho.
However, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad on Sunday said Olmert was never seriously threatened by an assassination plot by Palestinian militants and promised to do his best to rein in West Bank gunmen.
“There was nothing imminently dangerous,” Fayad said as he arrived for a meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli officials. “We are trying the very best we can to bring law and order to the cities, villages and areas that are under our control.”
Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin told cabinet members Sunday that the Fatah cell had planned to carry out the attack as the convoy entered the West Bank city on August 6, en route to the prime minister’s meeting with Abbas.
Israeli security sources said the cell planned to fire on the convoy, and had made preliminary preparations for the attack, which primarily included intelligence gathering.
According to the sources, the terrorists were members of the PA security forces, and therefore knew the convoy’s route as well as security arrangements.
Following the incident, Israel gave the PA intelligence information regarding the terrorists’ identities, and several were arrested by the PA intelligence services. Several additional Fatah men were arrested by Israel during West Bank raids.
Nonetheless, the PA last week released those terrorists it had detained, despite the fact that, according to Diskin, they had admitted to planning the attack.
A senior political source in Jerusalem said Israel views the incident, and especially the fact that potential assailants were released, with utmost severity.
The source added that the Prime Minister’s Bureau has submitted a harsh protest to Abbas’ office, and Israel expects the PA to take action on the matter.
PA intelligence chief Tawfiq Tirawi told Haaretz that the PA still has two suspects in custody that are under investigation, and confirmed that the arrests were made after Israeli security officials handed their names over to the PA.
Tirawi denied that members of the cell were released, but declined to provide further details.
The August meeting was Olmert’s first with Abbas in the West Bank after seven years of conflict, and the location was seen as significant as the
Ministers and MKs call for protest of PA conduct
Labor Party minister Ami Ayalon said that, in response to Diskin’s report, he had decided to cancel a scheduled meeting with PA Prisoners’ Affairs Minister Ashraf Al-Ajrami in protest of the PA’s conduct.
In addition, the Shin Bet ordered Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik to move to Jerusalem her meeting Sunday with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayad, which was originally scheduled to take place in Jericho.
Shas Party sources called Diskin’s report “more proof that the Annapolis summit should not be held as a diplomatic summit, but rather solely as an economic summit.”
National Religious Party Chairman Zevulun Orlev called on Olmert to “immediately halt his contacts with Abu Mazen [Abbas] and announce the cancellation of the summit as long as Abu Mazen continues to provide cover for terrorists.”
National Union MK Aryeh Eldad added that, “Olmert must recite the traditional blessing, for having been saved from an assassination. Abu Mazen should recite a blessing for having a partner like Olmert, because anyone else would have cut off negotiations long ago, and the State of Israel should say a blessing for getting rid of Olmert.”
National Union MK Zvi Hendel said that Olmert should be examined “by the best professionals, because a situation in which the prime minister is willing to meet with those who freed terrorists that tried to assassinate him, is not politics but rather insanity.”
Kadima MK Zeev Elkin urged the prime minister to “freeze all talks on gestures to Abu Mazen until the members of the cell are taken back into custody and tried.”
National Union MK Effi Eitam said “Olmert must awaken from the pointless dream of a moderate partner in Abu Mazen.”