3 security chiefs fired by Abbas

Move follows attacks by Hamas on Israeli settlements in Gaza

February 11, 2005|By Joel Greenberg | Joel Greenberg,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

JERUSALEM - Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas fired three of his top security chiefs yesterday after Hamas militants defied a truce he had declared with Israel by launching dozens of mortar rounds and homemade rockets at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas dismissed Abdel Razzak al-Majaida, chief of public security in the Gaza Strip and West Bank; Police Chief Saeb al-Ajez; and Omar Ashour, commander of the security forces in the southern Gaza Strip.

The move was a signal by Abbas that he was determined to enforce the declaration of a halt to hostilities he made with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at a summit meeting Tuesday at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik.

Several other officers also were dismissed, among them the director of the central prison in Gaza. He was sacked after gunmen burst into the jail overnight, killed two inmates and seized a third, killing him later at the Bureij refugee camp. Palestinians said the assault was a settling of scores between feuding clans.

Hamas said its attack on the settlements was a response to the killing of a Palestinian by Israeli troops Wednesday in the Gaza Strip town of Rafah. The army said soldiers had fired warning shots in the area when a group of Palestinians approached the fence of a neighboring Jewish settlement.

Militants fired more than 30 mortar rounds and crude Qassam rockets at settlements in the southern Gaza Strip yesterday, damaging a house but causing no casualties, the Israeli army said.

Sharon's office contacted Egyptian, American and Palestinian officials to express concern.

"We issued a very stern message to the Palestinians saying that we expect them, according to the understandings reached in Sharm el-Sheik, to take the necessary steps to stop the firing of Qassam rockets and mortars," said Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Sharon.

Abbas ordered his security forces, recently deployed across the Gaza Strip, to shoot if necessary to prevent further mortar and rocket firings and he threatened punitive action against commanders if they fail to prevent attacks, a Palestinian official said.

A statement from Abbas' office said he had "given orders to security chiefs to assume their responsibility to prevent any breach in the agreements to protect the national interest."

Abbas is expected to travel to Gaza today to meet with Hamas leaders and demand that they respect the truce, officials said. Last month he persuaded militant groups to suspend their attacks as he worked to arrange a formal cease-fire with Israel.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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