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Reconfirming its commitment to the ceasefire on Tuesday, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) rejected Israel’s demand and ongoing pressure to disarm anti-Israeli occupation factions as a recipe for Palestinian infighting and civil war, reiterated that ending the occupation is a precondition for disarming the Palestinian resistance, and describing the repeated Israeli demand as part of the Israeli government’s maneuvering to absolve itself from its “roadmap” commitments.

The PNA confirmed its commitment to maintain the ceasefire and to facilitate the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip, planned for mid-August.

“We are preparing very well for the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank and we hope it will be completed successfully. We are prepared to assume all our responsibilities in these areas,” PNA Prime Minister Ahamd Qurei said on Tuesday.

“We want this unilateral disengagement to pass smoothly so that it could be followed by a full withdrawal from our Palestinian territories, including (the Israeli-occupied) Jerusalem,” he said.

Qurei hoped that the upcoming summit between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would lead to “real” coordination ahead of the pullout.

On Monday Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erakat similarly reiterated PNA commitment to the ceasefire, but said it should be mutual and simultaneous.

“Every effort should be exerted to sustain the quiet. But it cannot be sustained by one side only. Both sides should be committed to stop violence against one another mutually and simultaneously,” said Erakat on Monday.

The issue would be “on top of the agenda” during the planned summit between Abbas and Sharon on June 21, he said.

Palestinian deputy interior minister Jamal Abu Zeid and the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) deputy chief of staff Moshe Kaplinsky held Tuesday the first meeting of the Palestinian – Israeli committee coordinating Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Halutz’s Latest Shot in Israeli Maneuvering

The IOF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said Tuesday that Israel might have to temporarily delay its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip if Palestinian attacks continued, saying that: “There won’t be disengagement under fire.”

The PNA and the Palestinian factions have unilaterally committed themselves to a truce with the IOF two weeks ahead of the summit between President Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on February 8, during which Abbas and Sharon reached and announced a “ceasefire” understanding.

Palestinian anti- occupation factions have since been committed to their unilateral truce despite the ongoing Israeli violations that claimed more than 30 Palestinian lives since February 8.

Haluz’s statement was the latest shot in Israel’s pressure tactics and maneuvering.

The Israeli government has been either reneging or prostrating on its Sharm el-Sheikh obligations as well as avoiding serious coordination with the PNA on its unilateral “disengagement” plan from the Gaza Strip and a tiny part of the northern West Bank, and threatening now and then to delay its withdrawal from both Israeli-occupied areas, as part of its pressure to dictate on the PNA to use force instead of national dialogue with the factions.

“The (PLO) Executive Committee expressed its concern in the face of the maneuvers by the Israelis who are refusing to deal seriously with the key questions linked to the withdrawal from Gaza,” said a statement issued by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Monday.

Al-Qidwa: Ending Occupation Is Precondition for Disarming

The PNA on Tuesday sent a clear-cut message to Israel that ending its occupation of the Palestinian Territory is the indispensable precondition for disarming the Palestinian resistance.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser Al-Qidwa said in a statement sent to reporters that the PNA will not disarm the factions until Israel ends its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which the Hebrew state occupied in 1967.

The “roadmap” peace plan calls for ending the Israeli occupation, said al-Qidwa, noting that, according to the international law, the Palestinians have the right to resist as long as the Palestinian territories are occupied.

“My position is based on international law and a deep understanding of our responsibilities according to the (UN-adopted) roadmap, and I will not retract my words,” he said.

“As long as there is occupation, we don’t think that there should be an end of arms,” Al-Qidwa told Israel Radio.

Al-Qidawa was referring to an earlier statement on Saturday to the same effect, which set off an Israeli storm.

On Saturday, Al-Qidwa told Palestinian television that disarming resistance factions was not on the agenda.

“The dismantling of armed organizations is not on the table because weapons are legal as long as the occupation exists,” he said.

“Possession of weapons is a strategic issue as long as there is occupation,” Al-Qidwa continued, adding that weapons should be organized and not be used to break the law.

Later in the day he elaborated.

“Under international law, the Palestinian people have the right to resist this occupation and defend themselves,” the former Palestinian envoy to the United Nations told Reuters in an interview.

“When occupation ends, it becomes a different matter. It would have to come to a national position to start disarming everybody, everybody but the security apparatus,” he said, referring to the PNA security forces.

“Keeping our weapons is a strategic option,” he added.

Threatening Israeli Reaction

His statements have angered the Israeli officials who have threatened to cancel a scheduled summit meeting on June 21 between Abbas and Sharon.

“The refusal of the Palestinian Authority to disarm the terror groups drops a cluster bomb on the process that could lead to negotiations and quiet,” Vice Premier Ehud Olmert told Israel Radio. “Very simply, either they will fight terrorism or we will fight terrorism.”

Separately, Israel’s Deputy “Defense” Minister Zeev Boim said Israel will not begin peace talks until the Palestinians disarm terrorists. Al-Qidwa’s comment “places doubt on the Palestinian intention to enter the road map framework acceptable to the entire international community,” Boim told Israel Radio.

Palestinian Factions Warn: Truce Should Be Reciprocal

Meanwhile The Higher Follow-up Committee of Palestinian National and Islamic Forces on Monday blamed Israel for endangering the fragile ceasefire in the West Bank and Gaza strip.

“We must make it abundantly clear that the ceasefire depends on reciprocity from the other side, we can’t maintain the ceasefire and the calm if the Israeli occupation army continues to kill and maim our people and raid our towns and villages,” the committee said.

“A one-sided truce will not be accepted and cannot continue,” said a statement issued by the 13 Palestinian factions. “We hold the Zionist enemy completely responsible for the deterioration of the truce.”

The Committee said as many as 23 Palestinians had been killed by the IOF since Abbas-Sharon summit on February 8.

In their statement Monday, the groups said they would continue to consult with one another to determine an “appropriate response to the ongoing aggression.”

“We are going to meet again within two days in order to discuss our final stand,” said Mohammed al-Hindi, an Islamic Jihad leader. “It looks like Israel will continue in this aggression and we cannot accept that anymore.”

Similarly Saed Sayem, a Hamas spokesman, said his movement’s patience was wearing thin.

“Israel is committing daily violations,” he said after Sunday’s meeting. “We are going to reconsider our stance if Israel continues its aggression.”

Shaath Denies Commitment to Disarm Factions

On the same day Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Information Nabil Shaath also warned of Israel’s ceasefire violations.

“If Israel carries on with what it is doing, it will be difficult to control matters,” Shaath said.

Shaath also denied that the PNA) was committed to disarm the anti-occupation factions at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit.

Shaath told the Cairo-based Radio Voice of Palestine that the PNA would not carry out such a commitment under the roadmap peace plan until Israel dismantles the illegal Jewish settlements and stop constructing its Apartheid Wall in the occupied West Bank.

President Abbas wrapped up a two-day visit last week to Gaza, which was dominated by urgent talks with the 13 factions aimed at salvaging an increasingly precarious ceasefire agreement.

“If you want to achieve peace and security, it is in our national interest to maintain calm,” he said Thursday on Palestinian television following talks with Hamas and Jihad.

“We must maintain calm despite the continuous provocations from Israel,” Abbas insisted.

The factions, including Hamas and Jihad, pledged to honor the 4-month old truce, provided Israel reciprocates.

Israel: For Us the Partner Is the PNA

On its part Israel said it has nothing to do with the Palestinian factions and that the PNA is its “partner.”

“Israel never had any illusions about the true nature of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

“For us the partner is the Palestinian Authority,” he added. “We are hoping that the Palestinian Authority will finally take the steps to dismantle these groups so they don’t torpedo the process of dialogue between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.”