PLO: Police Will Not Search for Unlicensed Weapons
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Palestinian police will not search for unlicensed arms even though a deadline for civilians to hand in or register their weapons passed Sunday, the justice minister said.
The United States and Israel demanded that PLO leader Yasser Arafat disarm the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups after a series of attacks claimed 65 Israeli lives and threatened the Middle East peace process.
Since the latest attack on April 9, when bombs in the Gaza Strip killed seven Israelis and an American student, Arafat has arrested more than 200 militants and set up special courts to prosecute them.
But Sunday’s announcement appeared to be a significant easing of the crackdown.
Freih Abu Meddein, the Palestinian justice minister, indicated police will not disarm the fundamentalist groups despite his own warning on April 12 that the self-rule government will not accept ``more militias and more arms.″
``We’re not going to carry out arbitrary searches of homes. We’re not going to declare war on anybody,″ Abu Meddein told The Associated Press.
``We will prosecute all those who carry arms in public and, of course, if we are tipped that there’s an arms depot somewhere we will raid it.″
Members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad will be allowed to keep unlicensed personal weapons as long as they are stored at home, Abu Meddein said earlier.
Arafat’s government may have wanted to avoid a confrontation with militants at a time when the PLO is negotiating with Israel on expanded self-rule in the West Bank.
In another sign of an easing, Arafat on Saturday released a prominent member of Islamic Jihad, Sheik Abdullah Shami, even though PLO officials had said earlier he would be tried for allegedly recruiting suicide bombers.
Islamic Jihad called the release ``just a propaganda campaign″ by Arafat’s government.