Sharon cuts links to Abbas after bomb attack in Gaza

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The Independent Online

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, ordered a halt to all contacts with the Palestinian Authority yesterday after the bombing and shooting attack in Gaza which killed six Israeli terminal workers and three Palestinians. Mr Sharon's office said Palestinian security personnel had been involved.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, ordered a halt to all contacts with the Palestinian Authority yesterday after the bombing and shooting attack in Gaza which killed six Israeli terminal workers and three Palestinians. Mr Sharon's office said Palestinian security personnel had been involved.

The tough new move will overshadow the inauguration of Mahmoud Abbas as the new Palestinian President in Ramallah today.

Israeli officials said the bar on contacts, after the pace of conflict quickened since Mr Abbas's election last Sunday, would stay until the Palestinian President took decisive action to halt attacks. The move immediately puts on hold Mr Sharon and Mr Abbas's relatively cordial agreement to remain in contact and meet in what the Israeli Prime Minister told his cabinet on Tuesday would be "the near future".

Thursday night's attack at Karni, the main crossing-point for cargo and aid between Gaza and Israel, along with Israel's unequivocally sharp response, significantly raise the stakes of Mr Abbas's stated intention to try to secure a ceasefire by the armed factions as a prelude to restarting the peace process.

Dov Weisglass, Mr Sharon's most senior adviser, yesterday conveyed Israel's response to Elliott Abrahams, President George Bush's national security adviser for the Middle East, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Tony Blair's foreign affairs adviser, and Javier Solana, the EU's policy chief.

A senior official in Mr Sharon's office said last night: "There is nothing personal about this and we have been very helpful since [President Yasser] Arafat's death. But the Prime Minister is saying that we cannot talk to the Palestinians until something is done."

Israel would require action and not just words against the militants, he said: "Palestinian security organisations were involved. This was not just any suicide attack. Everybody knows who is responsible."

Israel effectively closed the Gaza Strip yesterday, imposingrestrictions on movement in and out of the Gaza's three crossing-points, including Karni, in what local media had reported was a decision to enforce a lockdown until the Palestinian leadership took steps to halt violence. Mr Abbas, who has said he is seeking a ceasefire by the armed factions, said yesterday afternoon: "These attacks and what Israel did last week by killing nine Palestinians do not benefit peace."

In the northern Gaza districts of Beit Hanoun and Jabaliya, several thousand demonstrators, some carrying green Islamic flags, took to the streets in a "victory march" organised by the armed factions.

In a joint statement, Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committee and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, declared: "We will continue to chase you and disrupt your sleep until you leave the land you occupied," the militant groups said in a statement. "[The attack] affirms the consensus of the resistance factions on the choice of Jihad."

Last night Tzipi Livni, the recently appointed justice minister and a Likud politician who is close to Mr Sharon, said: "We must try to strengthen [Mr Abbas] as a leader, assuming that at some time or other he will be able take control of the terror organisations."

Three Palestinian militants were also killed in the gunfight after the attack. The militants had used a bomb weighing more than 100kg to blast open a door between the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the crossing.

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