Fatah Gunmen Agree to End Attacks on Israel in Exchange for Amnesty

Scores of Fatah militants in the West Bank have signed a pledge renouncing attacks against Israel in return for an Israeli promise to stop pursuing them, a Palestinian security official said Sunday.

The deal would grant amnesty to 178 Fatah gunmen who will join the official Palestinian security forces, and Israel will remove them from its lists of wanted militants, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge details of the agreement.

An official in Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office confirmed the deal would extend to wanted militants who openly renounce terrorism, and was part of a series of measures to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

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The moderate president set up a Fatah-led government in the West Bank after his rivals from the Islamic group Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in mid-June. Israel and the international community back Abbas in his struggle against Hamas.

Olmert will meet Abbas on Monday, Olmert's office said, in the first meeting between the two leaders since a June 25 summit that followed the Hamas victory in Gaza. At the meeting, Olmert is expected to present a list of 250 Fatah prisoners Israel will release.

And in another gesture of support, Israel agreed to Abbas' request to allow Nayef Hawatmeh, an exiled Palestinian militant leader, to enter the West Bank this week for a meeting of a top Palestine Liberation Organization policy-making body, a step that Abbas hopes will provide him added legitimacy among Palestinians.

Hawatmeh heads the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a small and nearly forgotten PLO faction best known for commandeering a school in the northern Israeli town of Maalot in 1974. The attack left 24 Israelis dead, most of them children, and helped shaped the attitudes of a generation of Israelis about the Palestinian leadership.

The amnesty document began circulating Saturday among members of Fatah-allied militia groups dedicated to fighting Israel.

The Palestinian official said an "overwhelming majority" of the militants have already signed. The Palestinians asked that another 200 militants be included in the amnesty, he said.

An Arabic text of the document obtained by The Associated Press reads in part: "The Israeli security and judicial authorities will refrain from arresting or pursuing me after I sign this document. I must be committed to the decisions of the Palestinian Authority and its security apparatus ... and refrain from carrying out any military or security activities against the Israelis."

Kamel Ghanam, a Fatah militia leader in Ramallah, said all 40 of the militia's men in the city have signed the pledge.

"We feel that we have a new political atmosphere. We are optimistic," Ghanam said.

In Bethlehem, Amjad Khalawi, a 35-year-old Fatah gunman, signed the document and came out of hiding after six years. Khalawi said he planned to get his hair cut for the first time since going underground to evade the Israelis, and would become a member of the Palestinian Preventive Security organization.

"I am happy for this end," he said.

In other moves aimed at helping Abbas, Israel has begun transferring Palestinian tax revenues that were frozen after Hamas won a Palestinian election in 2006, drawing an international boycott. The money has allowed Abbas' government to resume paying salaries to civil servants.

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