Palestinians call for American help to rebuild security forces

Sunday, August 10, 2003

JERUSALEM -- Clamoring for revenge, thousands of Hamas supporters Saturday buried two militants killed in an Israeli raid, and a senior Palestinian official urged the United States to intervene to prevent the unraveling of a six-week-old truce.

The militants and an Israeli soldier were killed Friday when troops raided a bomb lab in a West Bank refugee camp, sparking a gunbattle. A Palestinian stone-thrower also was killed by troops.

At their funerals in the West Bank city of Nablus, masked gunmen fired in the air, and mourners waving Hamas flags chanted slogans demanding retribution.

The Web site of Hamas' military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, called on militant cells to exact "a quick response to this crime to teach the enemy a deterrent lesson."

Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, said the statement "doesn't need any explanation. It means they will retaliate."

The group's leaders, however, stopped short of saying the incident would wreck a cease-fire declared June 29 by Hamas and other militant groups.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said Saturday that Hamas "promised it will not respond to the Israeli attacks." He warned, however, that more such raids could endanger the truce. Israel continues to send forces into West Bank towns and refugee camps to arrest Palestinian terror suspects.

"We urge the American administration and the international community for immediate intervention to put an end to this policy," Abed Rabbo said.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat also reacted angrily to the raid, accusing Israel of "destroying the whole peace process."

Violence has fallen sharply since the cease-fire, but progress on the U.S.-backed peace plan has stalled amid arguments over who should make the next move.

Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan said he was seeking $250 million from international donors to rebuild police stations destroyed by Israel during nearly three years of fighting.

In a statement released late Friday, he said the process would take three years.

Soon after fighting broke out in September 2000, Israeli warplanes and helicopter gunships leveled many police posts and security headquarters in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel said the Palestinian police did nothing to stop attacks on Israelis and were involved in some of them.

Strengthening police forces is key to progress along the road map, which calls on the Palestinians to dismantle militant groups and on Israel to withdraw gradually from Palestinian areas occupied during the last three years of fighting.

The Palestinian leadership is reluctant to confront powerful groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad for fear of civil war. Instead, the Palestinians say they are trying to persuade militants to end attacks.

Also Saturday, Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas' efforts to win broad Arab support suffered a setback after a planned visit to Kuwait was canceled over his refusal to apologize for Palestinian support for Saddam Hussein during Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

It would have been the highest-level visit by a Palestinian to Kuwait since relations soured during the Gulf War.

Barrak al-Noon, the acting speaker of Kuwait's parliament, said the "the Kuwaiti people absolutely reject" such a visit without an apology for the "shameful stance."

Abbas arrived in Saudi Arabia Thursday and is expected to travel to the United Arab Emirates and Jordan on a tour that was to have included Kuwait, where he had been invited to address lawmakers.

Along the Israeli-Lebanese border, Hezbollah guerillas fired anti-aircraft shells Saturday over the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shemona, the army said. A building sustained minor damage, and no injuries were reported.

The Lebanese militant group routinely responds to Israeli air force flights over Lebanon with anti-aircraft fire.

In more serious violence Friday, Hezbollah fighters and Israeli troops traded artillery fire over a disputed border area for the first time in eight months.

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan holding the Syrian and Lebanese governments responsible for Hezbollah's "acts of terror," Foreign Ministry spokesman Yonatan Peled said.

Meanwhile, President Bush voiced more U.S. concern about the security barrier Israel is building between it and the West Bank. Palestinians oppose the 370-mile barrier because its planned route sweeps deep into the West Bank to enclose Jewish settlements on the "Israeli" side.

"The fence is a problem because the fence, as you know, kind of meanders around the West Bank, which makes it awfully hard to develop a contiguous (Palestinian) state over time," Bush said Friday at his Texas ranch.

He told reporters that "the Israelis are willing to work with us" to find a solution.

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