Palestinian Terrorist Group Resists PA Efforts
RAMALLAH, West Bank – Militants from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades (search) are resisting promises of jobs and money from the Palestinian Authority (search), which is trying to win the violent group over, Palestinian officials said Monday.
Al Aqsa, which has ties to Yasser Arafat's ruling Fatah (search) movement, said it would only agree to the promises -- part of an Egyptian-led cease-fire deal -- under certain conditions.
Al Aqsa has carried out dozens of deadly shooting and bombing attacks on Israelis over the past four years. Israel and the United States consider Al Aqsa a terrorist group.
Also Monday, the Israeli government ordered the military to dismantle a large West Bank settlement outpost in coming days.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli troops clashed with Palestinian protesters demonstrating against the Israeli separation barrier. In Gaza, a Thai laborer was killed in a Palestinian mortar attack on a Jewish settlement.
Backed by Egypt, the Palestinian Authority is trying to persuade several militant groups -- Al Aqsa, Hamas (search) and Islamic Jihad (search) -- to halt attacks on Israelis. The talks are part of preparations for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and four West Bank settlements by the end of 2005.
The Egyptians are negotiating the terms of withdrawal with Israel because Prime Minister Ariel Sharon refuses to deal directly with Arafat.
Omar Suleiman, the chief Egyptian mediator, is scheduled to visit Israeli and Palestinian officials later this week.
In an interview earlier this week, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia suggested that he is trying to mollify Al Aqsa with promises of jobs, money and security.
Speaking to the London-based Asharq al-Awsat (search) newspaper, Qureia said Al Aqsa will be "encompassed within Fatah's establishments." He hopes to put the militants under the direct command of the Palestinian Authority.
But Abu Mahmoud, an Al Aqsa spokesman, said Al Aqsa has submitted a list of demands to Palestinian leaders and that negotiations continue. But, he said, that the group "doesn't want to be part of the security apparatus or to be considered a problem."
Bringing Al Aqsa gunmen into the security forces -- and allowing them to draw a regular salary -- was one of the options being considered.
Mahmoud said they would agree to a truce if Israel releases Palestinian prisoners, lifts a travel ban on Arafat and begins withdrawing from the West Bank.
The group, however, would not disband until a Palestinian state has been established in all of the West Bank and Gaza, with Jerusalem as a capital, he added.
"We will remain the Fatah military wing until we achieve our national goals," Mahmoud told The Associated Press.
In the West Bank, meanwhile, dozens of Israelis, many of them settlers, gathered at the hilltop outpost of Givat Haroeh (search) on Monday. Carrying sleeping bags and tents, they said they would try to prevent the evacuation of the outpost's 17 families.
Under the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, Israel is required to dismantle dozens of unauthorized outposts and freeze construction in older settlements. It has removed only a few outposts and has not stopped building in the others.
Peace Now (search), an Israeli group that monitors settlements, says of the 102 outposts it has located, 21 have been removed.
Givat Haroeh is the second-largest of these outposts, and grew in the past two months by 15 percent as at least eight women gave birth.
Settler Osnat Lichtenfeld, who delivered a baby girl two weeks ago, has lived on the hilltop outpost for 18 months. She said she would not leave willingly.
"We live here so we also have children here," Lichtenfeld said.
Settlers appealed to Israel's Supreme Court on Monday to try to halt the dismantling.
Jewish settlers began establishing outposts on West Bank hilltops several years ago, to prevent the handover of land to Palestinians as part of interim peace deals. Most outposts started out with a few trailers, a generator and a water tower, but have expanded over time.
The Israeli government has quietly funneled money to the outposts, despite a public pledge to remove them.
In Cairo Monday, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said France would support Egypt's efforts in the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza Strip.
After meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Maher, Barnier told reporters that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was the key element in restarting the peace process.