Renegade Palestinians threaten new attacks

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The Independent Online

Palestinian militants threatened yesterday to break the fragile Middle East ceasefire and launch new suicide attacks inside Israel.

In one of a series of leaflets distributed in the West Bank, a renegade cell of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, one of the main militant factions, condemned the Palestinian Prime Minister, Abu Mazen, for the way he has handled talks with Israel and demanded that the President, Yasser Arafat, fire him.

The leaflets are a sign of a growing split within Mr Arafat's ruling Fatah party, to which the Al-Aqsa Brigades are linked, between those who support the ceasefire and Abu Mazen's efforts in the peace process and those who oppose them.

Sources close to Al-Aqsa said Palestinians in south Lebanon were trying to recruit militants in the West Bank for attacks in Israel. The sources said an attack in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, in which a Palestinian stabbed three people, one fatally, was ordered from south Lebanon.

Details are emerging of how, in an effort to shore up the splits in Fatah and the Al-Aqsa Brigades, Abu Mazen's government has been paying militant leaders to honour the ceasefire. A Palestinian minister admitted that payments had been made, but did not confirm rumours that one leader received as much as $10,000 (£6,300).

Abdul Fattah Hamayel, Minister without Portfolio, said: "They are human beings. They need to pay the rent and the telephone bill."

One of the leaflets reads: "We demand the President, the leader Abu Amar [Mr Arafat], to dissolve the government of Abu Mazen and stop what is called the co-ordination between the Zionist generals and the so-called Dahlan," referring to the Palestinian security minister, Mohammed Dahlan.

Another calls on militants to "direct painful strikes against the defeated enemy" and refers to attempts to pay militants to honour the ceasefire, saying "the attempts to buy up the Mujahedin will reflect negatively on those who serve the schemes of the enemy". It is signed by Haj Abu Ahmad, an Al-Aqsa Brigades leader in the Nablus area. The Al-Aqsa Brigades have fragmented into autonomous cells, and the Nablus cell is particularly hard line.

A third leaflet warns of a "quick and quaking strike inside the 1948 areas" - a reference to Israel. It says: "No understanding, no agreements, no Hudna [ceasefire] without the release of all prisoners."

The peace process has ground to a halt amid an argument over the thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli jails. The ceasefire agreed by the militants was conditional on prisoners being released, but Israel has been refusing to release those it considers to have blood on their hands. Israeli diplomatic sources said yesterday that some members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad may be freed.

A source close to the Al-Aqsa Brigades said underground cells in Ramallah, Jenin and Balata refugee camp received instructions from Fatah leaders in Lebanon, and named one of those involved as Muneer Maqdah from the Ein al-Helweh refugee camp in Sidon, south Lebanon. Several members of the Al-Aqsa Brigades have been arrested by Israel on charges of being recruited and funded by Mr Maqdah.