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Palestinian Leader Threatens Crackdown on Militants

The leader of the Palestinian Authority is threatening to crack down on militant groups opposed to the peace process. Israel is greeting the news as a step forward.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to use force against militants who violate the cease-fire with Israel. In a speech to police, Mr. Abbas said there is a national consensus regarding the truce, and anyone carrying out attacks would be "struck with an iron fist." It was his toughest threat yet against militant Palestinian groups, and it followed several rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip this week.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says the aim is to restore law and order in the West Bank and Gaza.

"One law, everyone under the rule of law, and one legal gun," he said.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told VOA that it is a step in the right direction.

"Well, there's no doubt that Mr. Abbas isn't Mr. Arafat, and that we've seen some substantial improvements on the ground," he said.

Israel accused the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of sponsoring terrorism. But Mr. Regev urged the new Palestinian leader to keep his commitments under the internationally-backed "road map" peace plan.

"Up until now, unfortunately, Mr. Abbas has not taken the most important step, a step the U.S. has asked him to do, a step that the Europeans have asked him to do, a step that's in the road map, which is to disarm these armed groups that ultimately want to torpedo the entire process," he said.

Mr. Abbas faces a dilemma. He fears that confronting the well-armed militant groups head-on could lead to a Palestinian civil war. But Israel has warned him that it won't open talks on Palestinian statehood until the militants are disarmed.