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Israeli assault in Gaza 'violates accord'

A LARGE-SCALE Israeli assault against wanted Palestinians, clearly intended to 'clean' the occupied territories of gunmen ahead of self-rule, has dampened Palestinian enthusiasm for the new deal and brought accusations that Israel is breaching the spirit of the peace agreement.

On 13 October a joint committee of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation is to meet to negotiate the details of an Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho, due to begin in December.

But as Israel intensified its military operations, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have expressed doubts about the government's intentions to withdraw on Palestinian terms.

On Saturday Israel blasted houses in the Gaza Strip with rocket-propelled grenades in an attempt to flush out targets. Two alleged members of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, were killed and 16 suspects arrested, according to the Israeli army. Several homes were destroyed, bringing protesters on to the streets where only three weeks ago they were celebrating the news of an Israeli withdrawal. Yesterday parts of Gaza held a strike in protest at the operation.

As tensions have risen on the streets, a high-level political row has broken out over whether the Israeli action is allowed under the new agreement. But the declaration of principles, under which the Israeli army will gradually hand over responsiblity for internal security to a Palestinian police force, is vague.

The PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, protested by letter to Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, about the operations. 'Chairman Arafat considers the Israeli campaign in the occupied territories and especially in Gaza a violation of the spirit of the Israeli- Palestinian accord,' said Ziad abu Zayyad, a spokesman for Mr Arafat in Jerusalem. The PLO feels its crediblity is being called into question in view of Mr Arafat's assurances to Israel that the PLO would renounce violence. and its gunmen would lay down their arms. But some Palestinians believe Mr Arafat may be ready to temper his objections if the targets of the Israeli operations are Hamas.

Israeli army chiefs said yesterday their activities were specifically aimed at smashing Hamas gunmen and not at PLO factions which support the peace process.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister, yesterday denied that the action was in breach of the agreement. He said there was nothing in the accord to say that Israel should stop its pursuit of wanted gunmen. 'On the contrary, there is an understanding that the PLO would also operate against the terrorists,' he said.

It will be for the new committee on withdrawal to rule on what actions can be taken by the Israeli military inside the occupied territories as autonomy is set up.

(Photograph omitted)