JERUSALEM – An Israeli-Palestinian security meeting ended with no agreement on how to coordinate an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip (search), and the Palestinians warned Tuesday that chaos and instability could sweep through the coastal area following the pullout.
Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Yousef accused the Israelis of footdragging on key security issues after meeting late Monday with Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. Israel (search) in turn accused Yousef of failing to explain how his forces would secure Gaza once Israel pulls out this summer.
The less-than-spectacular encounter took place as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search) left for Washington for his first meeting with President Bush since winning a January presidential election. Abbas said he will demand political and economic support from the United States and progress on the internationally backed "road map" peace plan.
An Israeli Defense Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described Monday's meeting as "difficult." In a statement, Mofaz told Yousef that Israel would withdraw from the Gaza Strip this summer even if the Palestinians fail to coordinate the pullout.
Israel and the Palestinians fear that without proper preparations militants could open fire on Jewish settlers and soldiers during the evacuation or that looting and illegal land grabs will follow the withdrawal.
Yousef presented Mofaz with a Palestinian security plan for the pullout from Gaza and four West Bank settlements, the ministry official said, but Mofaz was unimpressed. He called the plan "unsatisfactory," the official said.
The current Palestinian plan only details how security forces will prevent militant fire and looting, the defense official said. Mofaz demanded Yousef return with the exact number of troops that will be deployed and outline the training they will receive ahead of Israel's "disengagement," the official added.
Despite the bad feelings, the sides agreed to meet again next week.
"Israel showed no flexibility and put obstacles before any opportunity of reaching understandings," Yousef's Interior Ministry said in a statement. "The Palestinian side left the meeting with one conclusion: Israel is interested in having chaos and instability in the Gaza Strip."
Mofaz refused to agree to release prisoners and hand over three West Bank cities as Israel promised under a truce deal reached in February at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, said Tawfeeq Abu Khousa, spokesman for the Palestinian Interior Ministry. Mofaz also refused to allow the Palestinians to receive arms and other equipment the security forces need to improve their capabilities, he said.
"Instead, Mofaz told Nasser Yousef there would be no progress on these issues unless the Palestinian Authority disarms militants," Abu Khousa said.
Israel has also accused the Palestinians of failing to coordinate the upcoming withdrawal. But Palestinian officials say they have received little or no information about the pullout and have no way of planning for it.
"The defense minister made clear during the meeting that coordinating the pullout is an interest of both sides but is not a condition for the pullout," Mofaz's office said in a statement. "The disengagement will be implemented in any case but it must be ensured that it will not occur under fire."
Mofaz told Yousef that Israel will continue easing restrictions in the Palestinian territories, but that the Palestinians must operate against terrorism, the statement said. Yousef presented the defense minister with a detailed list of fugitives that included information on whether they have disarmed, the statement said.
Egyptian officials, meanwhile, met Islamic Jihad officials in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, and were to meet later in the day with Hamas leaders in an attempt to prevent a shaky truce from collapsing.
A crisis between Hamas and Abbas' ruling Fatah faction over the possible delay of an upcoming parliamentary election threatens to destroy a cease-fire deal. Hamas has accused Fatah of working to delay the vote, scheduled for mid-July, because it fears the militant group will strengthen politically.
Hamas has made strong gains in recent municipal elections, but a Hamas leader in Gaza hinted Tuesday the group could decide not to participate in a final round of local voting because of dissatisfaction with Fatah.