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The BBC's Barbara Plett
"Palestinians say the policy makes it impossible to convince militants to keep the ceasefire"
 real 28k

Uri Avnery, Israeli Peace Campaigner
"Neither side wants a ceasefire at this point"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 4 July, 2001, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Israel army given freer rein
Funeral of murdered Israeli
Israeli deaths on Monday prompted the move
The Israeli army has been given the green light to "toughen its methods" against Palestinians in a further sign that the tattered US-brokered ceasefire is in danger of collapse.

"The security cabinet decided to toughen the methods and the reactions of the Israeli army," Labour Minister Shlomo Benizri said after the 13-member body met.

In the next few days I hope the Palestinians are going to feel a heavier punch from the army

Israeli minister Shlomo Benizri
The BBC's Barbara Plett in Jerusalem says that may mean giving the army greater licence to carry out targeted killings of Palestinian activists.

Shortly afterwards, Israeli radio reported that a militant from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement was shot in the West Bank city of Hebron.

The man, Hezem al-Natcheh, speaking in hospital, said Israeli forces had been searching for him for eight months - and he believed Palestinians working for them had shot him.

'Heavier punch'

Israeli minister Shlomo Benizri - who belongs to the ultra-Orthodox Shas party - said the army had asked for carte blanche to go after Palestinians, after militants killed two Israelis in separate shooting incidents on Monday.

"In the next few days I hope the Palestinians are going to feel a heavier punch from the army," he said on Israeli army radio.

The return to the policy of liquidations torpedoes US and international efforts and is leading the region into chaos

Palestinian spokesman
Israeli radio said that 26 Palestinian militants were on a list to be killed and another 250 faced arrest.

But the Palestinian leadership warned that the move would ruin attempts to maintain a ceasefire and lead to further trouble.

"The return to the policy of liquidations torpedoes US and international efforts and is leading the region into chaos," Nabil Abu Rudainah, an adviser to Mr Arafat, told the French news agency AFP.

Amnesty International also condemned the move as a contravention of the ceasefire agreement.

Settlement freeze

The development comes as a dispute sharpens over when the countdown to a six-week "cooling-off" period should begin - according to a timetable set down by CIA chief George Tenet.

Mr Abu Rudainah put forward the Palestinian view that an initial week-long test period of "calm" should end on Wednesday - while Israel insists it has not yet begun.

Shaul Mofaz
Mofaz faced unusual criticism in the US
The proposals outlined in the report by former US Senator George Mitchell's committee included a recommendation that construction at Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza be frozen.

But Israel says Mr Arafat has failed to clamp down on militants since their truce began.

Nevertheless, Mr Benizri said the government's overall policy of "restraint" would remain in place, meaning Israel would refrain from attacking installations belonging to Mr Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

More than 600 people have been killed in Israeli-Palestinian violence since September 2000 when the current Palestinian uprising erupted in protest at Israel's occupation and settlement activity in Gaza and the West Bank.

Controversial policy

The Palestinians accuse Israel of having assassinated about 40 activists since their popular uprising began last September.

Israeli Army chief Shaul Mofaz, who cut short a visit to the US because of the deteriorating security situation, said the policy of pre-emptive attacks on Palestinian militants was justifiable self-defence.

"We will not give up and we will not be defeated by the Palestinian terror activity and the violence," he told journalists.

General Mofaz made the comments after talks with US Secretary of State Colin Powell and US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice at which the assassination policy was criticised.

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See also:

02 Jul 01 | Middle East
Mid-East truce 'close to collapse'
27 Jun 01 | Middle East
Arabs want US to push Israel
25 Jun 01 | Middle East
Greater Mid-East role urged for Europe
12 Jun 01 | Middle East
Hardliners disapprove of ceasefire plan
18 Jun 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Annan's Middle East progress
29 Jun 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
The future of the Jewish settlements
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