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Israeli amnesty offer divides militants

Al Aqsa members are skeptical that the disarmament deal will yield concrete results.

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Sitting with a heavily bandaged right hand at his office in Nablus, Faiz Tirawi says the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade is as committed as ever to pushing Israel out of all the land it seized in 1967 – by force if necessary. And he seethes at the "treachery" of the Islamist group Hamas, which he describes as the tool of a "dangerous Iranian agenda for Palestine."

But it wasn't a clash with either of these two old enemies of the Fatah movement, which spawned his brigade, that injured his hand. Instead, the head of Al Aqsa's Nablus unit ruefully explains that it was sprained when he lost his temper and punched an Al Aqsa comrade last week after Israel extended a controversial amnesty offer to wanted Al Aqsa militants.

"I think Israel's policy is to try to destroy Al Aqsa by turning Palestinians on other Palestinians, and some of our leaders aren't being careful enough about this," says Mr. Tirawi. And it's not just him. Al Aqsa's wing in Gaza called the agreement to relinquish weapons "shameful. We carry weapons for one reason; liberating Jerusalem and establishing an independent Palestinian state, which has not been achieved,'' it reads. "This agreement is going to strengthen other factions who fight the occupation. We urgently appeal to the resistance to avoid falling into this trap."

The goal: Strengthen Abbas, secure Israel

Israeli officials and the Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas, who now only governs the West Bank after losing Gaza to Hamas in a brief civil war last month, says the idea is to strengthen Mr. Abbas while improving security for Israel, something that country demands as a precondition before making meaningful concessions toward peace.

But the signs of deepening mistrust and factional violence in Nablus and other West Bank cities bode ill for the prospects of disarmament by Fatah-linked militias or a turning away from political violence.

If the cracks continue to widen, the process could end up weakening Abbas – who already suffers from the absence of a militant pedigree and the perception of many Palestinians that he's too close to the US and Israel – rather than helping him.


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