Israel calls for tighter security on West Bank

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The Independent Online

Israel yesterday urged the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank to inject more "dynamism" into the faltering negotiating process by fighting militant cells after the killing of eight students at a Jewish seminary on Thursday.

Meanwhile the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, insisted negotiations must move ahead despite the major escalation in violence. Speaking in Ramallah, Mr Abbas said: "Despite all the circumstances we're living through and all the attacks we’re experiencing, we insist on peace. There is no other path."

While saying that there could not merely be "business as usual", Mark Regev, spokesman for Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, said Israel remained committed to the process established after the Annapolis summit last year and aimed at agreeing the outlines of a future Palestinian state. But with some right-wing politicians already calling for the talks to be broken off, Mr Regev said the process would be "easier and have more dynamism" if Palestinian security were "more effective in targeting" militants, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and renegade Fatah cells eager to produce "copycat" versions of Thursday's killings.

Hamas remained equivocal about whether it was behind the attack, and Israel refrained from publicly blaming a specific group. Relatives of Alaa Abu Dheim, the 25-year-old driver identified as the perpetrator, also declined to speculate yesterday on which faction, if any, had organised it. The gunman was eventually shot dead by an off-duty soldier.

At the mourning tent for the dead man in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Jaber Mukaber, one member of his extended clan, lawyer Mousa Abu Dheim, 42, said yesterday that as far as they knew, "he never spoke of politics. He was a normal person, living a normal life." He said that five of the dead man's nine relatives arrested by Israeli security after the attacks had so far been released.

The flags which had flown in the vicinity of the family home – those of Hamas, one of Hizbollah and one Palestinian national flag – had been taken down yesterday. Instead "martyr" portraits were strung across the street, the captions proclaiming that the "Islamic movement of Jaber Mukaber and Jerusalem happily mourns" Abu Dheim who "responded to the call of God in a heroic operation..."

In the wake of reports that his dead kinsman had been transfixed by events in Gaza – where more than 100 Palestinians were killed in last week's operation by the Israeli military - Mr Abu Dheim said: "It is not only him but maybe all Arabs, all Muslims who were affected by what happened in Gaza."

The London based Al-Hayat newspaper reported yesterday that Hamas and Islamic Jihad last week rejected an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire deal under which Israeli operations in Gaza would have stopped in return for an end to rocket attacks by militants. It quoted a senior Egyptian official as suggesting Syria could be behind the rejection.