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Palestinian Authority Plans to Disarm Militants

The Palestinian Authority says it will immediately begin disarming members of the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, the armed wing of the Fatah Movement. The announcement follows a visit to Washington last week by Mahmud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority.

The disarmament plan was announced following a meeting of the Palestinian National Security council.

It is the first attempt to disarm members of the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade in the West Bank, following a dramatic escalation of violence recently between Palestinian factions. A similar agreement was reached in principle between the Palestinian Authority and al-Aksa militants in the Gaza Strip, following Israel's withdrawal from Gaza last month.

The Palestinian Authority Chief of Police in the West Bank, Taher Zaid, says the disarmament plan will begin in the town of Nablus, which has a long history of violence.

Police Chief Taher Zaid says training camps will be set up for al-Aksa militia members in a move to eventually incorporate all or most of them into the Palestinian security forces. He says any who resist surrendering their weapons will face punitive measures.

A leading al-Aksa commander in the West Bank expressed skepticism about the plan, saying his men will not surrender their weapons as long as Israel maintains its presence in the West Bank.

Members of the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade belong to the ruling Fatah Party. They have been blamed for much of the violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The disarmament announcement follows a visit to Washington by Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas. During his visit with President Bush, Mr. Abbas pledged to bring violence in the Palestinian territories under control. But he also called for immediate implementation of the Roadmap international peace plan - which calls for an end to Palestinian terrorism and the dismantling of Israeli settlements.