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Last Updated: Friday, 11 February, 2005, 17:08 GMT
Abbas moves to shore up ceasefire
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas knows he cannot confront Hamas militarily
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has arrived in Gaza for talks aimed at persuading militants to join his ceasefire with the Israelis.

Mr Abbas is expected to meet leaders of militant factions on Saturday following a series of attacks on Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

They have said they are prepared to listen, but reserve the right to respond to Israeli attacks.

Earlier, senior officials from both sides discussed the ceasefire.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Negotiations Minister Sayeb Erekat met in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv to consider ways to keep up the momentum of Tuesday's truce declaration in the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh.

'Window closing'

Israel has not yet responded to recent militant attacks, but has threatened to act if Mr Abbas cannot stop the violence.

They [militants] must honour the ceasefire - there is only one authority and one leadership
Saeb Erekat,
Palestinian Cabinet minister

The Palestinian leader sacked three of his top security chiefs after the mortar attacks by the largest militant group, Hamas.

Israel's Deputy Defence Minister Zeev Boim praised Mr Abbas' swift action, but called on him to take direct action against the militants and warned that the "window of opportunity is closing".

"We still have a policy of restraint and civil gestures in order to strengthen him, but it must be remembered this won't last forever. He has to take action," Mr Boim said.

Hamas has said it is not bound by the agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, announced at the summit on Tuesday.

Abbas challenged

Hamas' attack on the settlements posed a huge challenge to Mr Abbas' authority, says the BBC's Alan Johnston in Gaza.

But Mr Abbas is unlikely to really believe that Hamas can be subdued through military action, our correspondent says.

The highly-sophisticated, highly-motivated Israeli army has spent years trying to stop the missile strikes, but never managed to stamp them out, he says.

It is widely held therefore that Mr Abbas will try to go down the route of dialogue and negotiation.

Mr Erekat told Reuters news agency Mr Abbas' message to the militants would be "that they must honour the ceasefire and that there is only one authority and one leadership".

INTIFADA TOLL
Hamas rocket in Israeli home
3,225 Palestinians killed by Israelis (3,135 by military in the occupied territories, 54 by military inside Israel, 34 by settlers in the occupied territories)
950 Israeli killed by Palestinians (431 inside Israel, 218 settlers, 218 soldiers on duty in the occupied territories
Source: B'tselem

Ahead of the planned talks, Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri said: "We will sit with... Abbas, listen and evaluate the results of the Sharm al-Sheikh summit and then we will determine our final position which will be based on the national interest of our people."

The smaller Islamic Jihad also said it would listen to Mr Abbas and then hold consultations on a ceasefire.

Both groups maintain they will retaliate if Israel attacks.

Mr Abbas on Thursday ordered his security forces to prevent a repeat of the 30-shell mortar attack which caused damage but no injuries in the Gush Katif settlement in southern Gaza.

It was the first attack since Mr Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared an end to four years of violence at their summit in Egypt.

After the attacks on Israeli settlements, Mr Abbas sacked the overall commander of Palestinian, Gen Abdul Razek Majaidie, along with national police chief Saeb al-Ajez and another senior official.


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