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Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas, under increasing pressure
from Israel and Yasser Arafat, will hold crisis meetings here today
in a bid to salvage the international road map for peace and seize
the initiative in cracking down on militant groups.
The Gaza meetings take place against the grim backdrop of
escalating violence on both sides.
One Palestinian was killed and more than 20 others wounded
yesterday in a failed Israeli helicopter strike on two militants in
the northern Gaza Strip, security sources said.
The Israeli army said the raid had targeted Khaled Massoud, a
member of the radical Palestinian group Hamas who it said had fired
Qassam rockets into Israel.
Khaled Massoud had been injured in the attack on a car in which he
was travelling, it said.
Abbas and other officials angrily condemned the strike.
"This brutal Israeli government policy will only take us back to
the vicious circle of violence.
Israel must understand that there is no military solution to the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict," Abbas said in Gaza.
An advisor to Palestinian leader Arafat, Nabil Abu Rudeina, said
the Israeli attacks had "taken the situation back to zero" and that
the Palestinian leadership could now ask for an emergency debate at
the UN Security Council on "the escalation".
US President George W Bush called on all leaders in the Middle
East, and the Palestinians specifically, to starve support from
extremist groups who target Israel with violence.
"Now is the time for every true friend of the Palestinian people,
every leader in the Middle East, and the Palestinian people
themselves to cut off all money and support from terrorists and
actively fight terror on all fronts," he said in a speech in
"Only then can Israel be secure and the flag rise over an
independent Palestine," as called for under a US-backed peace plan
known as the "roadmap," Bush added.
Israel swore to press its campaign of "targeted killings" after a
suicide bomb killed 21 passengers, including several children, on a
Jerusalem bus last week. Israeli officials said no militant was
The Israelis say they are forced to act because of the failure of
the Palestinian Authority to neutralise militants as a first step
toward progress in US-sponsored efforts to end the nearly
Abbas will hold a cabinet meeting in Gaza that a close aide said
"will focus on the issue of security... and what steps the
government should take on the ground".
Abbas' office also signaled he would try to meet with various
Palestinian factions but stressed he would not see either Hamas or
the Islamic Jihad group, which jointly called off a seven-week-old
ceasefire on Friday.
But Khaled el-Batsh, an official of Islamic Jihad, offered to meet
with Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen.
"We are ready to meet with Abu Mazen alone or in a joint meeting
with all the factions," he said.
Abbas and his security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, have pledged to take
on the hardliners but there has been little sign of action after
orders were issued to confiscate the groups' weapons following the
Jerusalem bus attack.
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said there could be no hope
of progress in the US-backed "roadmap" until Abbas moves to
dismantle the infrastructure of the militant groups.
"As long as the Palestinian Authority does nothing to dismantle the
terror organisations, we will do it.
It is a strategic decision," said Shalom.
Abbas' room for manoeuvre has been limited by a continuing struggle
with Arafat for control of the security apparatus.
His move to Gaza is seen as an attempt to distance himself from
Arafat, who is confined by the Israelis to his headquarters in the
West Bank town of Ramallah.
In other violence on the ground, three Palestinian teenagers were
wounded, one seriously, yesterday after Israeli troops opened fire
in the West Bank town of Jenin, witnesses and hospital sources
Israeli military sources confirmed their forces had opened fire in
the town, but said they had been targeted by Palestinian gunmen
while a Molotov cocktail had also been lobbed at their positions.