Palestinian PM assails Israel over West Bank raids

A036930111.jpgRAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad criticized Israel on Friday for a major military operation in the West Bank, saying such intervention was ruining a Western-backed internal Palestinian security plan.

Hundreds of Israeli troops flooded Nablus on Wednesday, conducting house-to-house searches and detaining at least 6 Palestinians. The raids triggered a confrontation with stone-throwing youths in which hospital officials said at least 29 people were injured.

“These operations destroy our efforts in the field of security, which started bearing fruit lately in a way that people felt the change,” Fayyad said in a statement.

The operation, which is continuing, was the biggest since Palestinian police deployed in the West Bank city as part of a bid by President Mahmoud Abbas to build diplomatic ties with Israel by showing he can rein in militants.

Fayyad created the security plan with Western help after the Abbas government lost control of Gaza to Islamist Hamas in June.

He said Israel’s actions in Nablus and elsewhere had “a tremendous negative impact on efforts being exerted, including at the international level, to revive the peace process”.

The rebuke looked likely to add to a mood of recrimination which has muddied Israeli-Palestinian peace talks launched in Annapolis, Marlyland in November.

U.S. President George W. Bush is due to visit the region next week to discuss the points of dispute with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Olmert said on Sunday there would be no easing of Israel’s security measures in the West Bank, which include hundreds of roadblocks that impede Palestinian movement, until Abbas’s forces prove effective against militants.

Palestinian authorities say the deployment of their police in Nablus and two other West Bank cities, Tulkarm and Bethlehem, has brought calm, with suspects arrested and weapons seized.

Two off-duty Israeli soldiers were killed in a West Bank ambush last week that Olmert’s office blamed on members of Abbas’s security services. The Palestinians denied that charge and said they had made two arrests.

The Israeli army said it had discovered a storage facility in Nablus containing “rocket-making infrastructure”. It distributed photographs of metal tubes with fins it said were found at the site, but added no working rockets were uncovered.

Israel fears any West Bank areas it hands over to the Palestinians could, like the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, be used by militants as launching points for rocket attacks on Israeli towns.

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