RAMALLAH, West Bank – The Palestinian prime minister said Monday he will not use force against militant groups under any circumstances, despite their stated determination to derail a U.S.-backed peace plan with attacks on Israelis, including two weekend shootings that killed five soldiers.
The prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas (search), also defended himself against complaints at home that he has been too conciliatory to Israel, including in a speech at a Mideast summit last week, and that Israel has given little in return.
Abbas said he has coordinated every move with Yasser Arafat (search) -- a barb at the veteran leader who said in public last week that the summit yielded no achievements.
Israel, meanwhile, appeared to be making a first small step toward meeting part of its obligation under the peace plan, the so-called "road map" to Palestinian statehood by 2005. Media reports said the military has drawn up a list of 15 settlement outposts, nearly all uninhabited, that are to be removed in coming days.
Under the road map, Israel has to dismantle dozens of outposts established since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) came to power in March 2001. According to the Israeli settlement watchdog group Peace Now, there are 102 outposts with about 1,000 residents, including 62 outposts built since Sharon took office.
Sharon, a major settlement builder in his career, never promised explicitly to remove all 62 outposts, and has acknowledged he has differences with the United States on the issue. His aides have said a distinction would be made between outposts considered legal and illegal, suggesting there would be less than full compliance.
Army commanders met Monday with settler leaders, reportedly to give them the list. Radio and TV reports said the military would ask settlers to remove the outposts voluntarily, but that troops would begin dismantling clusters of trailers on West Bank hilltops as early as Monday evening if settlers refuse to do so.
Pinchas Wallerstein, a settler leader, said he and his supporters would turn down the offer. "In no shape or form will we cooperate with this evacuation, and we will even fight against this with all our might," Wallerstein told Israel Army Radio before the meeting with the military.
The degree of resistance to the removal of isolated outposts will show how much of a fight settlers will put up in the event of a final peace deal, in which Israel would have to remove larger settlements.
About 220,000 settlers live in 150 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, the lands occupied by Israel in the 1967 war and claimed b the Palestinians for their future state.
In the first stage of the peace plan, the Palestinians are required to disarm and dismantle militant groups that have killed hundreds of Israelis in the past 32 months of fighting.
Palestinian militias have said they will not halt attacks on Israelis, and last week announced they are stopping contacts with Abbas on a cease-fire.
The militants said Sunday's shootings, including a rare joint attack by three militias on an army outpost in Gaza, are meant to underscore their determination to derail the peace plan. Four soldiers were killed in the Gaza attack, and a fifth in an ambush in the West Bank city of Hebron later Sunday.
Abbas said Monday that he will not order a crackdown on the militias under any circumstances because he wants to avoid civil war. "There is absolutely no substitute for dialogue," Abbas said at his first news conference since taking office April 30, adding he still believes the armed groups would change their minds.
Abbas did not elaborate. However, Palestinian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Egyptian intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, is working to restart cease-fire talks. Suleiman presided over previous truce efforts earlier this year.
In his speech at the Mideast summit, Abbas denounced violence against Israelis and called for an end to the "armed intefadeh."
Abbas said Monday that he is pressing ahead with the peace plan. In veiled criticism of the militants, Abbas said: "The suffering of the Palestinians should not be dealt with by incitement. It needs real solutions."
However, there was no sign of compromise. Palestinians will not "surrender to the pressure exerted by Israel and the United States of America," Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas leader, said Sunday. "We are unified in the trenches of resistance."
There has been widespread grumbling among Palestinians that despite Abbas' moderate speech, Israel has not reciprocated. Palestinians had expected a quick easing of an Israeli travel ban and the lifting of other restrictions. However, the closure has remained in effect, in part because of renewed attacks by militants.
Secretary of State Colin Powell appealed to both sides Sunday not to let the talks fail again. "What we have to do now is to make sure we don't allow this tragic, terrible incident to derail the momentum of the road map," Powell said on Fox News Sunday, referring to the Gaza attack.
Speaking at a convention of his Likud Party, Sharon warned that attacks must stop before any other steps are taken. '"We will not give anything as long as the terror, violence and incitement continues," he said, his remarks often drowned out by booing and whistling from Likud activists opposed to the peace plan.
"The terror war that was started against us 1,000 days ago has failed," Sharon said. "I tell you today that the victory we aimed for is at hand."