Palestinians order forces to prevent attacks

RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, under growing pressure to rein in militants, on Monday ordered his security forces to prevent attacks against Israel and investigate a deadly shooting of Israeli civilians last week.

However, Palestinian security officials were short on details about possible action against armed groups, and a spokesman for Hamas said the violent Islamic group would continue carrying out attacks.

The order by Abbas, approved by his Cabinet, was the Palestinians’ first step against militants since last week’s attack at the vital Karni crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, which killed six Israelis.

‘A decision was taken that we will handle our obligation to stop violence against Israelis anywhere,’ said Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat.

While Israel cautiously welcomed the announcement, it remained unclear how far Abbas would be willing to go. Abbas insists he will use persuasion, not force, to rein in militants.

Palestinian ministers said Abbas planned to travel to Gaza on Tuesday, a day earlier than initially planned, for talks with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Abbas’ victory in Jan. 9 presidential elections last week raised hopes for a breakthrough in Mideast peacemaking. Abbas has been an outspoken critic of violence and is eager to resume negotiations with Israel.

But the Karni attack, two days before Abbas was sworn into office, dispelled Israeli goodwill. Karni, the main crossing where food and other goods are shipped in and out of Gaza has been closed since the attack late Thursday. After the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suspended contacts with Abbas, and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell urged Abbas in a phone call Sunday to rein in the armed groups, Palestinian and U.S. officials said. Powell called Abbas on Sunday, said U.S. Consulate spokesman Chuck Hunter, and ’emphasized the critical need to take action to stop Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets.’

Israeli troops raided several areas in Gaza over the weekend to halt rocket fire on Israeli settlements and border towns, withdrawing early Monday.