Palestinians settle internal dispute

 

Palestinian militants andPresident Yasser Arafat temporarily settled a disputethat had threatened a ceasefire with Israel.

Under the deal, the 20 men from al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigadeswanted by Israel will remain for now in Arafat's headquarters inthe Israeli-surrounded West Bank city of Ramallah pending apossible future move to the town of Jericho.

Arafat had been sheltering the militants in the "muqata"compound but confined them to a single room on Saturday afterIsrael demanded they be sent to jail in Jericho as aprecondition for an Israeli pullback from Ramallah that wouldease his own confinement.

Palestinian Security Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan saidhe and Israeli Major-General Amos Gilad failed in talks today to agree on further Israeli withdrawals from West Bankcities under a US-backed peace plan.

"The Israelis repeated their proposal to withdraw fromJericho and Qalqilya but we insisted on a pullout from majorcities such as Ramallah," Dahlan said.

There was no immediate Israeli comment.

Israeli forces quit Bethlehem and the northern Gaza Stripafter Israel, the Palestinians and the United States affirmedthe peace "road map" at a summit in Aqaba, Jordan on June 4.

Al-Aqsa had said it would pull out of a three-monthceasefire that militant groups declared on June 29 if theJericho transfer of the men in the muqata went ahead.

Khaled Shawish, a Brigades member, told Reuters by telephonefrom the headquarters that the men, who are accused by Israel ofattacking its citizens since the start of the intifada inSeptember 2000, had suspended the hunger strike they declaredafter being detained.

But Shawish said the group remained opposed to moving toJericho.

"We are now waiting for Israel to withdraw from Ramallah sowe can leave the muqata," Shawish said.

Other members of the Brigades in Arafat's headquarters saidthey remained committed to the suspension of attacks onIsraelis.

"We understand that we, the fugitives, are a burden onPresident Arafat, and we shouldn't have stayed here in the firstplace. But we reject the notion of being moved to a jail inJericho," said Shawish, who has been in the muqata for twoyears.

Dahlan said he had refused an Israeli demand to movethe militants to Jericho.

"All these fugitives are committed to the ceasefire and I amagainst taking measures against them. This will endanger thecontinuity of the truce," Dahlan said.