JERUSALEM – Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer cautioned on Sunday that Israel would not withdraw from more Palestinian areas as laid out in a new agreement unless Palestinian security forces work harder to stop violence against Israelis.
Another Cabinet minister, Danny Naveh, went even further, saying the security agreement reached last week -- entailing Israeli withdrawals in exchange for Palestinian assurances against terror -- is "frozen."
"They haven't done anything serious ... concerning terror and violence," Naveh told Israel Radio.
Ben-Eliezer, however, denied the agreement was frozen. But he said that Israel could not progress in its implementation since there had been so many indications that militants were still planning terror attacks.
"In accordance with agreements, the defense minister expects an improved security situation in the Gaza Strip, and the continuation of Israeli steps, including the redeployment of forces in Hebron, will be considered according to Palestinian efforts to reduce terror and violence in the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem," Ben-Eliezer's office said in a statement.
Security meetings regarding implementation of the agreement will continue this week, the release said.
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said the Israelis were stalling for no reason.
"What I can describe the situation to be is non-movement as if the consistent position of the Israeli government is to keep the status quo," Erekat said.
Under the first security accord between the sides in more than a year, Israeli troops transferred control of the West Bank town of Bethlehem to the Palestinians last week and were slated to do the same in the Gaza Strip soon after.
The Bethlehem withdrawal was seen by Israel as a test case for further pullouts in six other Palestinian towns in the West Bank that Israeli troops have controlled since the end of June after two suicide bombings in Jerusalem.
But Israeli forces showed no signs of preparations to withdraw from sections of the Gaza Strip. The delay was apparently due in part to an attempt by three Palestinians to infiltrate the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip on Friday. The attack was foiled when soldiers shot and killed two of the militants.
The militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have rejected the security agreement, vowing to continue attacks. The Palestinian Authority has been holding talks with officials from the groups in recent weeks in an effort to get them to abandon the violence.
Palestinian Interior Minister Abdel Razak Yehiyeh published a statement Sunday detailing his efforts to get the militant groups to comply. During a meeting last week, Yehiyeh stressed the importance of the security agreement in order to remove Israeli troops from Palestinian towns, he said.
"I asserted the need to reassess and revise accordingly the strategy of resistance and to review its presently adopted forms so as to comply with international norms and international legitimacy," Yehiyeh said in the statement in English.
Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers entered the village of Salfit near the West Bank town of Ramallah Sunday, searching houses and arresting six Palestinians wanted for militant activity before withdrawing, the army said.
In the West Bank town of Jenin, gunmen from the Al Aqsa Brigades affiliated with Yasser Arafat's Fatah party detonated explosives early Sunday at the office of the local Palestinian governor, Haider Irshaid. Walls and furniture at the offices were seriously damaged, Irshaid said.
The attack followed an argument by telephone in which the gunmen demanded Irshaid stop conveying army instructions regarding the curfew in the town. Every night, Irshaid publicizes on local TV plans by the army to impose or lift the curfew the next day.
The authority of local Palestinian officials has gradually eroded during the two years of fighting as Israeli forces have demolished municipal and local offices, accusing them of involvement in or encouragement of terror attacks. Most municipal affairs in the areas controlled by Israeli troops must be coordinated with the army.