Abbas: Armed Uprising Against Israel a Mistake

Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Mahmoud Abbas, the interim Palestinian leader, said in an interview published today that the armed struggle against Israel was a mistake and should end.

Abbas, favored to become president of the Palestinian Authority in elections next month, also said it was time to rein in a hodgepodge of rival Palestinian security forces and halt what he called a climate of lawlessness.

Abbas criticized the armed intifada, or uprising, while he briefly served as prime minister in 2003, saying the violence hurt Palestinians more than it helped them.

But the latest remarks, published in the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al Awsat, were his most concrete on the subject since he took over as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization after Yasser Arafat's death last month.

Abbas said it was necessary to "keep the intifada away from weapons because the intifada is the legitimate right of the people to express its rejection of the occupation through social and popular means."

He added: "The use of weapons has been harmful and should stop."

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon criticized the new Palestinian leadership, saying it wasn't doing enough to halt attacks by militants.

Abbas was roundly criticized at home when he spoke out last year against the use of arms. But public opinion has shifted somewhat in recent months.

A poll last week found support among Palestinians for armed attacks against civilians inside Israel fell to 49% from 54% in September. Some militants have come out in favor of Abbas in the presidential campaign.

His comments came amid fresh violence in the Gaza Strip, the site of an attack Sunday by militants on an Israeli army outpost that left five soldiers dead and six wounded.

In the newest outbreak, militants fired four mortar rounds into a Jewish settlement in the southern Gaza Strip, killing a Thai farmworker and injuring two other workers.

Israeli leaders were already preparing responses to the Sunday attack. Israeli media reports said the military planned more assassinations of militants, though officials were reportedly considering actions of limited scope in order not to undermine the ability of the new Palestinian leadership to coax fighters to end attacks.

In Rafah, along the Egyptian border, Palestinian officials said a member of the Palestinian security forces was killed today after Israeli forces opened fire on a group of militants trying to plant a bomb near an army outpost. Two militants were seriously wounded and two escaped, officials said.

Earlier today, Palestinian officials said Israeli soldiers demolished seven houses during an incursion in Khan Younis, a community in the southern Gaza Strip that is a regular launching pad for attacks against Israeli settlements.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Israel would continue to act until the Palestinian leadership stopped militants from launching attacks.

Mofaz toured the border outpost near the Rafah crossing with Egypt that was struck in Sunday's attack, during which fighters tunneled beneath the army post and set off more than a ton of explosives before exchanging gunfire with Israeli soldiers.

Mofaz said the attack harmed Palestinians by forcing the closure of the Rafah border crossing into Egypt — the main way for residents to leave or enter the Gaza Strip. An Israeli soldier was killed last week in an attack at a separate crossing used to shuttle merchandise between Gaza and Israel.

Israeli officials said the Rafah crossing, through which 4,000 to 5,000 Palestinians pass weekly, would be closed for days. Military officials said they were readying plans for emergency cases.

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