Abbas Can Still Be a Partner for Peace, Israel Says

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas still has a chance to become a partner for peace if he cracks down on terrorism and imposes order in the Palestinian areas, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman said on Monday.

Sharon, who called Abbas [Abu Mazen] to congratulate him after his election victory a week ago, suspended ties with the Palestinian leader three days later on Friday, following a terror attack on a Gaza Strip crossing that left six Israelis dead.

Two Kassam rockets slammed into Israeli areas on Monday, and two mortars landed in the southern Gaza Strip near an army base but caused no damage.

Over the weekend, a 17-year-old girl was critically injured and her 10-year-old brother moderately wounded in a Kassam rocket attack on the southern Israeli city of Sderot, which borders the Gaza Strip. The girl was still fighting for her life on Monday.

Three other residents of Sderot were among six Israeli civilians killed in a combined bombing, shooting and grenade assault on the Karni crossing late Thursday night. The six worked at Karni, which serves as the only passage for goods into and out of the Gaza Strip for Palestinians.

On Saturday afternoon, just before prayers were about to begin, a mortar shell landed near the synagogue in the central Gaza Strip settlement of Netzarim, severing the forearm of a 7-year-old boy.

Ten Palestinians were reported killed in Israeli army counter-operations since the Karni attack.

Two armed Palestinians were killed near the main route to Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip on Monday -- one was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher when Israeli troops opened fire on him, and the second was killed in a subsequent exchange of fire with troops.

Meanwhile on Monday, Abbas ordered that the armed wing of Fatah -- the Al Aksa Martyrs' Brigades, which claimed joint responsibility for the Gaza attack -- be brought under the authority of the PA, Israel Radio reported. An unnamed official in Jerusalem was quoted as saying this was a "small step" in the right direction.

Before his election, analysts said that one of Abbas' greatest challenges would be to bring the radical groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad under control.

Abbas is scheduled to meet with leaders of those groups in the Gaza Strip later this week in an attempt to persuade them to abandon violence.

But Sharon's spokesman, Dr. Ra'anan Gissin, said that any agreement with the terrorist groups "is not going to hold water."

Sharon said on Sunday at the beginning of his cabinet meeting that the new Palestinian leadership had taken no action to stop terrorism. "This situation cannot continue," he said.

The Israeli army and security forces had been "instructed to step up operations activity against terrorism ... without restrictions as long as the Palestinians are not lifting a finger," Sharon said.

PA Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath said that Sharon's policy "will not serve the peace process."

Sha'ath said that the Palestinians and their president are "ready for peace" and that Abbas would meet with Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders in Gaza to discuss a ceasefire with them.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak reportedly asked Sharon over the weekend to give Abbas a chance.

Gissin said that while no restraints had been placed on the army, Israel was still not yet using all its force and that it was up to Abbas to impose law and order on Palestinian areas.

"He still has a chance to become a partner [for peace]," Gissin said. "We're not using everything we have now."

Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim said that Israel would give the Palestinians a limited time.

"From a political point of view, there is still a desire to give a window of time, even if it's limited, in order for Abu Mazen to get organized," Boim said in a radio interview. Nevertheless, he added, it would not be "100 days of grace."

Meanwhile, angry residents of Sderot held a one-day strike on Monday, led by the city's mayor, to protest the firing of rockets at their city.

Sderot, a city of some 23,000 residents fully inside Israel but bordering the Gaza Strip, has been hit by hundreds of Qassam rockets.

See Earlier Story:
Israel Closes Gaza Strip Crossings After Terror Attack
(Jan. 14, 2005)

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