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PLO calls for halt to resistance attacks
The Palestine Liberation Organisation has called on armed resistance groups to stop carrying out attacks which it said were giving Israel an excuse to block progress in the Middle East peace process.
As Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accused PLO chairman and new Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas of doing nothing to stop attacks, the PLO's decision-making executive committee demanded on Sunday that armed factions stop "harming the national interest".
"The committee gave its full support to Abu Mazin's inauguration speech to stop all military acts that harm our national interest," the PLO executive committee said in a statement after meeting in the West Bank town of Ram Allah.
Such attacks merely "give an excuse to the Israeli position which is aimed at sabotaging Palestinian stability and the implementation of the roadmap", the committee added.
Abbas is due to travel on Wednesday to Gaza City, the stronghold of the Islamist movements Hamas and Islamic Jihad, for talks with their leaderships about securing a new ceasefire.
During a speech on Saturday after being sworn in as Palestinian Authority president, Abbas criticised attacks by armed resistance groups as hampering efforts to "bring about the calm needed to enable a credible, serious peace process".
Sharon ordered a freeze on all contacts with the Palestinian Authority on Friday in the aftermath of a resistance attack on a border crossing between Gaza and Israel in which six Israelis were killed.
Three Palestinian factions claimed joint responsibility for the attack, including the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which is an armed offshoot of Abbas' own mainstream Fatah movement.
Fifteen people were also injured in the attack, the biggest since Abbas won the election to succeed Yasir Arafat as head of the Palestinian Authority.
Shortly before Sharon's statements, an Israeli drone bombed a Palestinian home in the al-Salatin district west of Bait Lahya in the northern Gaza Strip.
The home was severely damaged, but none of its residents, a 16-member-family, were reported to have been injured.
An Israeli military spokesman said the attack targeted a workshop used for making rockets and mortar shells.
For its part, Hamas' military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has issued a statement claiming responsibility for firing two Qassam rockets at the Negev town of Sderot.
In a separate statement, the movement claimed responsibility for firing another two Qassam rockets at the Eli Sinai settlement in northern Gaza Strip.
An Israeli spokesperson said no injuries were sustained due to the rocket attacks.
Israel has expressed frustration that Palestinian leader Abbas has failed to translate his verbal denunciations into action on the ground.
Sharon has said that Abbas and the Palestinian Authority will not be considered a partner in the peace process unless they take concrete action to dismantle what he calls the "terrorist infrastructure".
Abbas has been an outspoken critic of the use of weapons in al-Aqsa Intifada.
He has also angered Palestinian armed factions with his condemnation of frequent rocket attacks launched from Gaza at southern Israel or at settlements in the territory, saying that they usually cause more damage to Palestinian civilians.
On Sunday Sharon told a cabinet meeting that he had given the Israeli army carte blanche to crush armed Palestinian groups in Gaza.
Responding to the Israeli prime minister's announcement, Saib Uraiqat, Palestinian minister for negotiation, said, "Sharon's announcements should be treated seriously as they are very dangerous."
Speaking to Aljazeera from Ram Allah, he said, "Mahmud Abbas offered on Saturday an olive branch to Israel by asking it to resume negotiations and to implement on an equal and reciprocal basis the road map plan, foremost of whose demands is putting a halt to violence.
"But what Sharon has declared is a scorched-earth policy, a move that may be considered a beginning of a comprehensive occupation, leading to real humanitarian disaster.
'We are committed'
Uraiqat continued: "Israel should understand that ending the cycle of violence requires returning to a meaningful peace process and putting a mutual and simultaneous halt to attacks.
"We are committed to stopping violence against Israelis anywhere and likewise Israel has to halt violence against Palestinians anywhere as well.
He added: "If the index of violence is based on the fatalities so far, then we have to remind the Israeli government that 19 Palestinians have been killed since last Monday.
"Clearly, the only way to halt the cycle of violence is to resume talks, not by stopping contacts."
Aljazeera + Agencies