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Israel Suspends Security Contacts with Palestinians

  • Jim Teeple

Israel on Monday temporarily suspended security contacts and all negotiations with Palestinian authorities following two attacks against Israeli settlers in the West Bank that left three Israelis dead. Israeli Defense officials have also re-imposed travel restrictions on Palestinians that had been temporarily lifted for Ramadan observances.

Israel reacted with anger and action following the attacks against settlers in the West Bank.

Israel's Army sealed off the West Bank towns of Hebron and Bethlehem, close to where the attacks took place, and barred vehicle traffic by Palestinians on the main north-south road in the West Bank. Security officials say they are stepping up arrests of Palestinian militants. During the past month Israeli authorities have arrested about 700 Palestinians in the West Bank.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry says Israel will also temporarily suspend all security contacts and negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

"Obviously, we have had to take defensive measures to protect our civilians and also we wanted to send a very strong message to the Palestinian authority that they must get their act together, and they must start a process of following through on what they have promised to do and that is to disarm these terrorist groups," he said.

Sunday's attacks came as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is preparing to meet with President Bush on Thursday. A planned meeting between Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was postponed last week, after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators could not agree on an agenda for the talks.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says he believes Sunday's attacks are designed to sabotage peace talks, but Israel's response will also not help move the process forward.

"It is very unfortunate. It is unfortunate, because at a time when we attempt to revive the peace process there are those who are trying to sabotage these efforts, through the shooting incident yesterday," he said. "We need to work together to revive the peace process, to revive the committee's work, to revive the removing of roadblocks. Adding to the complexities, adding to the roadblocks, adding to the siege will not provide security. It will just add to the complexities."

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians had decreased since both sides agreed to an informal truce in February. But following Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, there has been a dramatic increase in violence in Palestinian areas, as a result of a power struggle between Palestinian factions.

Meanwhile, Israel's military intelligence chief is warning that foreign Islamic militants suspected of ties to the al-Qaida terror group have infiltrated the Gaza strip - something the Palestinian Authority has denied in the past.

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