JERUSALEM - After days of deadly violence, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appealed to militant groups yesterday to abide by an informal cease-fire and to avoid jeopardizing a planned Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip.
Abbas took the unusual step of making the public entreaty on live television from his Gaza City office, a sign of how closely the unofficial truce declared in February between Israel and Palestinian militias teetered near collapse after more than a dozen bloody deaths in less than a week.
"We will not tolerate anyone who tries to violate this [truce], which would obstruct the Israeli withdrawal," Abbas warned. "We will not allow anyone to mess with our national interest for narrow party or factional reasons."
Abbas also blamed Israel for provoking violations of the cease-fire, but his message was clearly aimed at Palestinian militants to persuade them to halt attacks and return to the long period of relative calm that had prevailed before the recent surge of violence.
"We should show self-restraint and not respond to expected Israeli provocations that seek to draw us into a confrontation that would cost us a lot and take from us what we have started to achieve," said Abbas, who has been struggling to establish Palestinian Authority control over Gaza.
While he did not single out any militant groups by name, the chief object of his appeal was the radical organization Hamas, which not only escalated a shelling campaign against Israel last week but also clashed openly - and lethally - with official Palestinian security forces charged with preventing rocket and mortar attacks, raising fears of civil war.
In the hours before Abbas' televised address, Hamas members kept up their barrage on Jewish settlements inside the Gaza Strip and Israeli communities bordering it. One Israeli was lightly injured.
The Israeli military continued its crackdown on militants, arresting 30 suspects early yesterday in raids throughout the West Bank, primarily in the tense city of Hebron. Twenty-six detainees were suspected members of Hamas and four of Islamic Jihad, the group responsible for a suicide bombing Tuesday that killed five Israelis, the first such attack in nearly five months.
The arrests followed 24 hours of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza - nine in all - and one in the West Bank. The missile attacks killed four alleged Hamas weapons makers in Gaza and two in the West Bank town of Salfit on Friday; a third man targeted in the Salfit strike died of his wounds yesterday.
Israel alleged that the Hamas militants killed in Gaza were on their way to carry out rocket launches. Yesterday, an Israeli security official said for the first time that the three Salfit men, previously described only as "wanted terrorists," also were "ticking bombs" preparing to mount attacks, but she would not specify what kind.
Israel had announced in February that it would suspend its practice of targeted assassinations but reserved the right to go after the "ticking bombs."
Its statement yesterday that the Salfit militants fell under that category appeared to be an effort to soften indications that it had resumed assassinations of top militants.
Hamas has vowed revenge against the strikes.
Worried about a possible return to full-blown conflict, Egypt hurriedly dispatched a senior intelligence official, to arrive in Gaza today, to mediate. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also hastily added a visit here next week to a previously planned trip to Africa.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.