Palestinian Authority declares it will confiscate weapons
Move comes in crackdown on militant groups
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian leaders, responding to a suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed 20 people, declared late Wednesday that only Palestinian Authority officials would be allowed to carry weapons -- a move clearly aimed at militant groups.
Earlier, Palestinian officials had vowed to take "measures not seen before," following the suicide bombing and dramatic calls from Israel and the United States to dismantle terrorist groups that carry out such attacks.
Israel called for immediate action against the terrorist groups, and Israel Defense Forces troops were seen in or near three Palestinian towns.
Six Israeli jeeps and two armored personnel carriers entered the West Bank town of Tulkarem late Wednesday, raiding a cafe frequented by wanted militants, Palestinian security sources and witnesses told CNN.
Israeli sources said IDF soldiers killed one Palestinian after coming under fire from several directions. The Palestinian sources said the soldiers fired guns as they entered the city.
Israeli military sources called it a "specific activity" to arrest wanted Palestinians and destroy the terrorist infrastructure in the town. The operation ended early Thursday, the Israeli sources said.
IDF soldiers briefly entered the West Bank city of Nablus before pulling back, Palestinian security sources said. And witnesses reported six or seven Israeli tanks briefly deployed outside Ramallah that began pulling back late in the evening Wednesday.
A mortar round was fired from a Palestinian-controlled area into the Jewish area of Gush Katif in Gaza late Wednesday, the seventh such shelling since the cease-fire announcement by Palestinian militants in late June, the IDF said. There were no injuries.
Gush Katif is a block of Jewish settlements between Rafah and Khan Yunis, in southern Gaza.
Palestinian officials condemned Tuesday's bombing and asked Israel not to respond militarily, warning it could cause a further blowup in the region.
"After what happened last night, the rules of the game have changed," said Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman Elias Zananiri.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both of which claimed responsibility for the attack, "have decided to change the rules of the game," Zananiri said. "The Palestinian National Authority will act accordingly."
"We are going to take a new set of measures, measures not seen before in the last period of time," he said.
The Palestinian Cabinet met late Wednesday in Ramallah with President Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, declaring afterward that only Palestinian Authority officials would be allowed to carry arms.
The Palestinian officials said dialogue with militants has not succeeded, necessitating stronger measures such as confiscating weapons, homemade mortars and explosives, and setting up checkpoints in Gaza to search for weapons.
The meeting ended around midnight, with Arafat and Abbas agreeing to meet later with their security team to work out details on how to implement the new measures, sources said.
Palestinian police also have banned all representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad from giving media interviews, and promised that any representative who spoke to the media would be banned from Gaza, Palestinian security forces said.
Israeli Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned his country has heard enough promises from the Palestinians.
"They have to act and they have to act from now, immediately," he told CNN. "This will stop. Either the Palestinians will stop it or we will stop it. And once we will engage in stopping it, we will not stop before it's all over with."
The death toll in Tuesday evening's suicide operation on a bus included five Americans, several children, and two infants. Ambulances services said 136 people were wounded. Fifty remained hospitalized Wednesday, 13 of them in serious or very serious condition. (On the Scene: Jerrold Kessel)
The bombing was the deadliest attack since three major Palestinian groups -- Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades -- declared a temporary halt to attacks against Israelis June 29. All three groups are designated terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his top security advisers met for three hours Wednesday, but there was no word on what occurred.
"Until now, we had a lot of patience, but patience is running out," said Gideon Meir, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman. "We have to protect our people.
"It might be the end of the peace process, we don't know, but the responsibility falls all on the shoulder of the Palestinian Authority."
A senior Israeli spokesman said officials would discuss the possibility of a complete closure of the West Bank.
Palestinian sources said Abbas decided to break off talks with representatives of Islamic Jihad and Hamas.
"I announce my strong condemnation of this horrible act, which does not serve the interest of the Palestinian people at all," Abbas said. "I have given my instructions to the security minister to launch an investigation."
A U.S. congressional delegation in Israel Wednesday canceled a planned meeting with Abbas, saying he was "impotent to stop terror or unwilling to act." (Full story)
In an interview on CNN's "Newsnight," Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erakat condemned the bombing and said "such attacks harm the interests of the Palestinian people."
But he cautioned the Israelis not to "shoot themselves in the foot" by suspending the peace talks and launching a military response, saying "the military solution" has not worked during the nearly three years of the intifada, or Palestinian uprising.
Ra'anan Gissin, a spokesman for Sharon, said Israel would take the necessary steps to defend its citizens if the Palestinian Authority would not bring militant groups under control.
Following the bombing, Israel froze all contact with the Palestinian Authority, including discussions that had been taking place this week to hand back security control of four West Bank towns -- first Jericho and Qalqilya, then Tulkarem and Ramallah.
Islamic Jihad said the suicide bombing came in retaliation for the killing of one of its leaders in a gunfight last week with Israeli troops. The attack was also in revenge for the killing of two Hamas members as well, according to that militant group. (Full story)
CNN correspondents Michael Holmes, Jerrold Kessel and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.