Vol. 5 Num 272 Thu. March 03, 2005  

Israel warns Abbas of stormy future
Palestinians win global support for statehood

Israel warned Mahmud Abbas yesterday of a bleak future ahead unless he crushes militants, as the Palestinian leader basked in global support for a raft of reforms set to create a viable Palestinian state.

"If the Palestinian Authority will not start acting against the terrorists, the future will be very bleak for Abu Mazen (Abbas)," a top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said.

Five Israelis were killed in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv last Friday, seriously denting mutual efforts to observe calm since Abbas and Sharon declared an end to hostilities at a Middle East summit in early February.

"If these organisations feel they can get away with things like this now, they will resist him even more in the future," added the official.

Israel delivered its ominous warning as Abbas was set to hold talks with top EU officials in Brussels, with some welcome international credibility tucked under his arm, after unveiling an ambitious reform programme in London.

In the wake of the attack -- claimed by the radical Islamic Jihad faction -- he has vowed to exert a "100-percent effort in the domain of security".

Abbas was set to meet European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Brussels. The EU is the biggest single source of aid to the Palestinian Authority.

On the ground, the Palestinian interior ministry confirmed that all heads of security in the West Bank stronghold of Jenin had been ordered to take early retirement after militants opened fire on a ministerial car on Tuesday.

All 11 chiefs of the security services would be dismissed, a spokesman said, but denied reports that the Jenin governor had been similarly sacked.

"Any official who will not act according to his duties and responsibilities, will be punished," spokesman Colonel Adnan Admiri told AFP.

The security overhaul came as Abbas won support from the European Union, the United Nations and the United States for an ambitious package of reforms intended to create a viable Palestinian state living in peace with Israel.

Participants at a London conference hailed his reform blueprint as "a major step in implementing its roadmap commitments" but similarly said they "urged and expect action by Israel" in relation to its own peace pledges.

The Jewish state did not attend the meeting, regarded by the Palestinians as a prelude to a full-dress peace conference, which France offered to host in the second half of this year.

Instead, Israel kept up the heat on arch-foe Syria amid growing Western pressure on Damascus, dismissing comments from President Bashar al-Assad that he will recall troops from Lebanon within months.

"We will believe it when we see it," said the Sharon aide.

In an interview with US magazine Time, Assad said a withdrawal of the 14,000 troops still in Lebanon "should be very soon and maybe in the next few months. Not after that."

Israel, the United States and France have been exerting major pressure on Syria quit Lebanon following the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri.