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Israeli Official: Palestinians Plotted to Kill Olmert in West Bank

Israel says it has foiled a Palestinian assassination plot against its prime minister. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the incident is putting further strain on the peace process.

An Israeli security chief told the Cabinet that Palestinian terrorists planned to assassinate Prime Minister Ehud Olmert more than two months ago. The head of the Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin, said gunmen plotted to attack Mr. Olmert's convoy as he traveled to a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Jericho.

The gunmen were from Mr. Abbas' Fatah faction. Israel notified Palestinian police who arrested the suspects, but now Israel is furious that they have been released.

Public security minister Avi Dichter told Israel Radio that it is a classic example of the Palestinians' failure to fight terrorism. He said it is reminiscent of what Israel calls the "revolving door" policy of the 1990s, when the Palestinians would jail wanted terrorists and then let them go.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Ashraf al-Ajrami said the suspects were released because of a lack of evidence.

They were arrested and interrogated," Al-Ajrami told Israel Radio, "but there was no evidence of a plot to assassinate the Israeli Prime Minister. He said the whole thing was a joke.

But Israel is not amused. In the wake of the alleged plot, parliamentarians across the political spectrum called on Mr. Olmert not to attend an upcoming international peace conference in the United States that will deal with the creation of a Palestinian state.

Mr. Olmert said the plot on his life caused him "great displeasure" and Israel would not ignore it. But he added that he has "no intention of stopping the dialogue with the Palestinians."