June 4 (Reuters): Palestinian militant groups vowed today they would not disarm, defying an appeal by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas issued at a US-led peace summit with Israel.
In Jerusalem, Jewish settlers denounced the peace summit as a “humiliating ...surrender to Palestinian terror”, and at least 10,000 massed for a protest rally.
In Gaza, Hamas official Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi said: “We will never be ready to lay down arms until the liberation of the last centimetre of the land of Palestine.” Islamic Jihad, another group sworn to Israel’s destruction, followed suit.
But neither ruled out further talks with Abbas, who seeks a halt to militant attacks in a 32-month-old revolt for independence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. He has sought to coax both groups into a ceasefire.
Any full-scale Palestinian crackdown on militants seems unlikely given concern it could spark civil war. But even an arms amnesty would be anathema to militants who consider themselves the vanguard of Palestinian nationalism.
“(Abbas) spoke about stopping the resistance, collecting arms as if we were a state and not under occupation,” Islamic Jihad official Abdallah al-Shami said. “He was not supposed to use such language.”
Both groups said it was first incumbent on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza, which it captured in the 1967 war. Israel wants militants reined in first.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad view Israel, as well as the West Bank and Gaza, as Palestinian land. They opposed 1993 interim peace deals and have waged several suicide bombing campaigns.
But mindful of the suffering caused to Palestinians by Israeli army incursions, the militant groups have indicated willingness to suspend attacks inside Israel and thus help Abbas implement the road map.
“We are in need of more time. I think that in the coming few days, we in Hamas will decide on our objective, and then we will meet with Mr Abbas,” Rantissi said.
Jews settled on territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war vowed to oppose any attempt by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, their longtime right-wing champion, to begin uprooting their outposts as he promised at the summit in Jordan.
“The Aqaba summit was a humiliating ceremony in which the Israeli government celebrated its surrender to Palestinian terror,” the Yesha Council, representing some 200,000 settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said in a statement in Jerusalem.
It said 1,094 Israelis had been killed in Palestinian militant attacks since the interim Oslo peace accords a decade ago, subsequently eclipsed by a Palestinian uprising for statehood in the two territories launched in September 2000.
“Terror increased due to the Oslo agreements and today the Sharon government is about to repeat this big mistake,” it said.
Around 10,000 settlers gathered by early evening in Jerusalem’s Zion Square for the first of what their leaders said would be a series of mass protests and acts of civil disobedience. The crowd included young and middle-aged people, many wearing skullcaps signifying religious, nationalist Jews.
Emotions ran so high over the issue that some Israelis expressed concern it could spark civil war, but settler leaders were careful to play down chances of serious violence.