Israel, Palestinians Mull Hunt for Fugitives

Israel (search) and the Palestinians plan to form a committee to decide which Palestinian fugitives will no longer be hunted by Israeli security forces, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official said Wednesday.

The official, Amos Gilad, told Israel's Army Radio that Cabinet ministers are set to approve formation of the panel later this week. The committee is to include members of the Israeli military and security service, and Palestinian officials.

Israel won't go after Palestinian fugitives who hand in their weapons and sign a written pledge not to carry out attacks against Israeli targets, Gilad said. Any fugitive who violates the pledge will again become a target, he added.

Israel has vigorously pursued fugitives during four years of fighting, killing or arresting hundreds, and the Palestinian Authority (search) estimates the Israelis are chasing about 300 more. Fugitives are one of the most sensitive issues in current truce talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has said repeatedly he would not confront the militants, but prefers to co-opt them. One idea for dealing with the fugitives is to fold them into Palestinian security forces.

Gilad brushed off criticism that ending the hunt for fugitives would be tantamount to pardoning Palestinians responsible for killing Israelis.

"We have to include all the fugitives who stop being active. ... We are not talking about pardoning," Gilad said. "If they return to terror and if the attacks and the murders continue, then in the end we will return to a different type of vigorous activity."

Referring to the relative quiet that has prevailed in the area in recent weeks, Gilad added, "There is an opportunity here that must be exploited. All quiet is built on understandings."