JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday ruled out relaxing Israel’s grip on the occupied West Bank until the Palestinians rein in militants after a shooting attack killed two off-duty Israeli soldiers.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s government has condemned Friday’s shooting near Hebron and said it was meeting its security obligations by carrying out a crackdown in West Bank cities.
Olmert and Abbas agreed at a U.S.-sponsored peace conference last month in Annapolis, Maryland, to launch negotiations with the goal of reaching a statehood agreement by the end of 2008.
But Olmert has said Israel will not implement any agreement until the Palestinians meet their obligations under the long-stalled “road map” peace plan to rein in militants in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Citing security concerns, Israel has so far rebuffed U.S. and Western pressure to remove some of the hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints that restrict Palestinian travel in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
“As long as the Palestinian Authority does not take the required measures, with the required intensity, to fight terror groups, the state of Israel cannot make any changes that may expose it to dangers and create security hazards,” Olmert told his cabinet.
“We do not intend to make any compromise on these (security) issues and they will remain an inseparable part of our negotiations,” Olmert said.
Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdainah said Abbas’s government was committed to meeting its security obligations under the road map.
He said Israel should not create obstacles in the way of the negotiations by expanding Jewish settlements and by carrying out “assassinations” in the Gaza Strip, which the Hamas Islamist group seized by force in June after routing Abbas’s secular Fatah forces.
Israel has not met its own road map commitments to halt all settlement activity in the West Bank, where Abbas still holds sway.
The Israeli army killed one Hamas militant near Gaza’s border with Israel on Sunday, both sides said. Militants use the territory to fire rockets into southern Israel.
In a newly-issued statement, Hamas took joint responsibility with the Islamic Jihad militant group for Friday’s shooting attack that killed two Israeli soldiers who were hiking near Hebron.
Two militants were also killed in the gun battle.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the attack on Saturday and said several suspects had been detained by security forces.
Fayyad’s interior minister, Abdel-Razak al-Yahya, said the government was already taking steps to dismantle militant groups.