Abbas fires Gaza commanders after attacks

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas fired his top Gaza security commanders after militants launched a massive shelling attack on Israeli targets around the Strip, Palestinian security officials said late Thursday afternoon. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Abbas dismissed Brigadier General Abdel Razek al-Majaydeh, chief of public security, and two other senior commanders. The officials gave no other details, and the report could not immediately be confirmed. Abbas on Thursday afternoon had ordered PA security forces to end militant fire on Gaza Strip settlements, which shattered the relative calm surrounding Tuesday’s Sharm el-Sheikh summit. Hamas announced earlier Thursday that it had fired 46 mortar shells and rockets at Israeli communities in and around the Strip. A second barrage was launched several hours later. One mortar shell was fired at a settlement in northern Gaza and three more in southern Gaza, Army Radio reported. There were no casualties or damage caused. Head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Southern Command, Dan Harel, was expected to meet Thursday evening with the commander of PA security forces in the Gaza Strip. Harel is expected to demand that Musa Arafat’s forces bring an end to the Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets. Abbas said he had issued „strict instructions” to his security forces to prevent any violations of the cease-fire. He also said he is planning a series of „decisions and measures” for his forces, but did not elaborate. The Palestinian leader also said that he was committed to the agreements he had reached at the summit in Egypt, which saw Israeli and Palestinian declarations to end hostilities between the two sides after more than four years. Israel has welcomed Abbas’ efforts so far, but a senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he must take far tougher against the militants. The IDF said that 17 mortar shells had struck Israeli targets Thursday, most of which exploded near the Neveh Dekalim settlement in the Gush Katif bloc. A number of the shells fell within Palestinian areas of the Strip. No injuries were immediately reported, although one of the houses in the settlement sustained damage. IDF sources said the fire was coming from areas in which Palestinian Authority security officers are deployed, and noted that troops returned fire. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s bureau on Thursday afternoon expressed deep concern over the mortar attacks in the Gaza Strip. President Moshe Katsav said he believes in Abbas but placed responsibility for the shellings on the new Palestinian leader, Army Radio reported. Sharon’s bureau called Egyptian, American and Palestinian officials on Thursday to express concern about the fresh violence. „We informed them we expect the Palestinians to act immediately against these attacks,” said Asaf Shariv, an aide to Sharon. The security cabinet met on Thursday to discuss the continuing Palestinian attacks. Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during the meeting that Abbas’ days of grace are quickly coming to an end and he must act immediately and powerfully against the militants’ attacks. Israel will be forced to act if Abbas does not, Netanyahu said. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz also expressed concern over the attacks during the cabinet meeting, warning that Israel may have to resume operations against terrorists. „The fact that the terror is continuing does not correspond with Abu Mazen’s [Abbas’] remarks in Sharm, that they [the Palestinian Authority] would not tolerate ongoing fire on Israeli civilians. If the Palestinians do not fight terror, we will be forced to do it,” Mofaz said. But, he added, „we still believe that this is an historic opportunity that we must not allow to get away. [Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom] has updated the cabinet on his conversations with the foreign ministers of Morocco, Oman and Qatar, regarding the opening of missions following the return [to Israel] of the Egyptian and Jordanian ambassadors.” The Thursday salvo was one of the heaviest mortar barrages since Abbas and Hamas reached an accord on January 22, under which militants would curb their activities, unless Israel resumed military operations in the territories. Hamas said that the barrage came in response to a Wednesday incident near the southern Gaza settlement of Atzmona, in which IDF soldiers opened fire at a group of four men who came within 70 meters of the fence surrounding the settlement, critically wounding one of them. Palestinian sources said Thursday the man had died of his wounds overnight BPI-info