Peres Urges PLO to Tighten Security : Mideast: To mark anniversary of accord, Israel sends foreign minister to Gaza, releases prisoners.
Israel observed the first anniversary of its accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization by releasing hundreds more Palestinian prisoners Friday and sending Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to the Gaza Strip to warn PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat that he must prevent Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
The agreement that Peres and PLO officials secretly initialed in Oslo a year ago “changed the whole realities and destinies of the Middle East,” Peres said at a news conference with Arafat. “It was an opening through which a strong current of peace began to flow.”
But in an interview with Israel Radio before he flew by helicopter to Gaza, becoming the first senior Israeli official to meet with Arafat in Gaza since Israel handed over control of daily life there to the Palestinians, Peres complained about the PLO security record.
“We don’t demand 100% success” by Palestinian police in preventing attacks against Israelis, Peres said. “We expect an effort of 100%.”
The Israeli government has been pressuring Arafat to crack down on militant Islamic groups in the Gaza Strip since Sunday, when one Israeli was shot dead and six others were wounded in two drive-by shootings. Hamas, a militant Islamic group opposed to the PLO peace accord with Israel, claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Both Arafat and Peres on Thursday sought to minimize the differences between the PLO and Israel over how to combat attacks against Israelis and over how quickly Arafat should move to secure the Palestine National Council’s revocation of elements of the Palestinian National Covenant that call for the destruction of Israel.
Arafat has pledged to seek annulment of parts of the charter but has been reluctant to convene the council because he is not assured of obtaining the two-thirds vote necessary to do so.
But Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud opposition in Israel’s Parliament, on Friday declared the PLO agreement a failure because of ongoing attacks against Israelis and failure to annul the covenant.
“This agreement has proven to be a one-sided agreement, in which Israel alone is honoring her commitments while the PLO is consistently breaching all its commitments,” Netanyahu asserted in an interview on Israel Radio. “I don’t propose we return to Gaza. Gaza is behind us. The question here is, where are we going?”
Arafat and Peres confirmed that Israel next week will hand over responsibility for education throughout the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority. They said Palestinian and Israeli negotiators will continue to work toward agreement on handing over other elements of civil affairs to the authority.
The fate of Palestinian prisoners still in Israeli jails remains one obstacle. Israel released 249 more but demanded that they be confined to Jericho, the only place in the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority is in full control of civil life.
Saeb Erekat, in charge of municipal affairs for the authority, said that Jericho’s infrastructure cannot absorb all the prisoners Israel is dumping there. Jericho is already housing 280 freed prisoners.
And the newly free prisoners had their own gripes. Moayed Dbaik, 20, of Nablus, interviewed by Reuters while sweating in a sweltering, tin-roofed building at the Arab Development Society farm complex, said: “Prison was even better than this. Animals would refuse to live in a place like this.”