Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The United States has expressed concern about reports of collaboration between Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization and Islamic militant groups in planning violent protests over the last month which have all but ended the peace process.
President Clinton is trying to pressure Arafat into clamping down on violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but Israeli security officials fear that Palestinian violence may have entered a new phase Thursday with a suicide bombing.
The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad late Thursday accepted responsibility for an incident in which a cyclist blew himself up outside an Israeli army post in Gaza, lightly wounding a soldier.
On Wednesday, officials of the larger Islamic group, Hamas, confirmed that a steering committee comprising representatives of Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups was meeting daily to plan the following day's assaults.
Washington's concerns were heightened by reports in The Washington Post that Arafat had "formed a working alliance with Palestinian militants he previously had jailed."
More than one hundred Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists have been released from Palestinian jails over the past month, during what Palestinians have dubbed a second intifada (uprising) in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
State Department spokesman Phil Reeker said the alleged collaboration was an issue of "serious concern" to the U.S. "We will continue to monitor it through our embassy and our consulate there," he told a press briefing.
Reeker emphasized the need to end street violence in which more than 130 Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, and eight Israeli Jews, have died.
The PA has "obligations to carry out its commitments, particularly the fight against terrorism, and to apprehend, to prosecute and to bring to justice those involved in terrorist acts," Reeker said.
There has been evidence in recent weeks of increased cooperation between Arafat and the Islamic groups. Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials were invited to join Arafat's decision-making cabinet shortly after the violence erupted. There has also been cooperation in other ways, such as joint advertisements in official PA newspapers.
U.S. Embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv, Larry Schwartz, said the U.S. was concerned that the PA fulfill its obligations in signed agreements to work against terror. "There can be no excuse or justification for any other course of action," he said.
Unconfirmed reports have indicated that Arafat and Prime Minister Ehud Barak will go to Washington next week for talks with Clinton, in an attempt to make the terms of last week's Sharm el-Sheikh ceasefire agreement stick.
The main provisions of the accord were the cessation of the violence, the establishment of a fact-finding committee to probe the clashes, and a renewal of negotiations.
Clinton said he was not sure that all elements involved in the violence were under the control of the PA or the Israeli government. But he stated that he believed Arafat could act to "dramatically reduce the level of violence."
Hamas has warned Arafat against going to Washington. It said Palestinians viewed the invitation as "a new plot to block the intifada."
Israeli security officials believe Arafat has given tacit approval to terror attacks. They fear that Thursday morning's suicide bombing attack may signal the start of a new wave of terrorism, like one in early 1996 which left 57 people dead and hundreds wounded.
Islamic Jihad's claim of responsibility for Thursday's attack came in a statement faxed to a wire service in Beirut.
"The al-Quds [Jerusalem] Brigades, the military arm of the Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine, claims responsibility for the suicide attack launched by the heroic martyr Nabil al-Arair ... against a Zionist military post ... in Gaza," it said.
The attack "was not the first and will not be the last," the statement added.
Arafat's spokesman, Marwan Kanafani, blamed the suicide attack on Israel, because of the number of Palestinian casualties during the violent clashes of the past month.
Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, warned earlier: "Everyone is calling for revenge."