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Palestinians Accuse Israel of Setting Up Fake al-Qaida Cell

The Palestinian Authority accused Israel on Saturday of setting up a fake al-Qaida cell in the Gaza Strip in order to justify launching attacks inside the territory. Israel has dismissed the claim as ludicrous.

The Palestinian Authority said Saturday that Israel's Mossad security agency had enlisted what it called Palestinian collaborators in the Gaza Strip to pose as members of Osama bin-Laden's al-Qaida network.

Palestinian officials made the claim in response to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's allegations that al-Qaida members had infiltrated Palestinian areas of Gaza.

The Palestinian chief of Preventive Security in the Gaza Strip, Rashid Abu Shbak, said his forces uncovered Palestinians in the territory, who allegedly had been ordered by Israeli security officials, "to work under the name of al-Qaida."

He said that the investigation was continuing, and evidence would soon be made public.

Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Mr. Sharon, dismissed the Palestinian statements against Israel as, "sheer nonsense."

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat also described as a big lie Mr. Sharon's statement that al-Qaida members had penetrated the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon, with the aim of targeting Israel. Mr. Sharon did not provide any details.

Speaking to reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Mr. Arafat said that Mr. Sharon had made the claims in order to justify what Mr. Arafat called crimes against the Palestinian people.