The Washington Times

Israeli-militia fighting threatens new truce

By Joshua Mitnick
Published November 28, 2006

QABATIYA, West Bank -- Israeli-Palestinian fighting in this West Bank village yesterday threatened to undermine a day-old cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, even as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered fresh enticements to the Palestinians.

Speaking shortly after Israeli soldiers killed two Palestinians in Qabatiya, a local militia leader called for colleagues in Gaza to ignore the cease-fire that went into effect on Sunday and take revenge.

"There will be a response," said Yasser Nazzal, a local leader of a militia called the Popular Resistance Committee (PRC). "We have to tell everybody that they are fooling themselves to think that Gaza could be separated from the West Bank."

The exchange was a reminder of how fragile the Gaza truce remains as long as the low-grade conflict between Israel and the Palestinians continues in the West Bank.

Seeking to build on the peace hopes created by the cease-fire, Mr. Olmert announced in a major policy speech that we was willing to release Palestinian prisoners -- some serving long terms -- in exchange for the release of an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped in June.

If the Palestinian factions succeed in forming a new government that would recognize Israel and foreswear violence, Mr. Olmert added, he is ready to negotiate a peace deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas aimed at creating a Palestinian state with full sovereignty, territorial contiguity and defined borders.

"We embarked on this path -- and I hope that it will lead us forward toward the goal we all aspire to -- peace, tranquility and mutual trust," he said. "We are ready and willing to pursue this path, and persevere until we reach the sought-after solution."

Israel would also answer a serious Palestinian move toward peace by easing checkpoints in the West Bank and releasing Palestinian funds that have been frozen since Hamas took over the Palestinian government in March, Mr. Olmert said.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Mr. Abbas is ready to negotiate a final peace deal, the Associated Press reported.

"I believe Mr. Olmert knows he has a partner, and that is President Abbas. He knows that to achieve peace and security for all, we need to shoot for the end game," Mr. Erekat said.

But in Qabatiya, a village patrolled by Israeli soldiers on a daily basis, a militant who called himself Abu Yussef said that West Bank Palestinians feel abandoned by the Palestinian political leaders who left them out of the cease-fire.

"There have been two things exercised against us: contempt and unfairness," he said of the agreement.

Members of the local branch of the PRC -- a militia composed of gunmen from security forces linked to Hamas and Fatah -- said they had hoped on Sunday that the cease-fire would be broadened to the West Bank.

But the moment of optimism was lost when a detachment of Israeli soldiers confronted a Palestinian. In the ensuing gunbattle, PRC gunman Razak Nazzal was fatally shot. His 55-year-old stepgrandmother was killed, too.