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Fatah Opposes Israel Attacks — Maybe

In a three-page letter released Tuesday, Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement said it opposes and will prevent attacks on civilians in Israel, but suggested it will continue to target Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The release of the letter was shrouded in some confusion.

Some Fatah officials said it has been sent to regional branches, while Hussein al-Sheikh, a Fatah leader in the West Bank, said it was not the final version and that the Fatah leadership still had some reservations about the text. Al-Sheikh said Fatah has been working with European diplomats on the wording.

The conflicting signals came just hours before Israeli and Palestinian officials were to meet in Tel Aviv to try to revive a gradual truce agreement.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militia linked to Fatah, has carried out scores of shooting attacks on Israeli motorists, settlers and soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The militia is also responsible for several shootings and bombings in Israel, although Fatah leaders have said in the past they oppose such attacks.

Fatah was reported to have been working on a similar statement and seeking the support of Hamas and other Islamic militant groups as well two months ago. However, that effort was apparently scuttled by Israel's killing of a key Hamas militant in Gaza in a bombing that also killed 14 civilians, including 9 children.

Meanwhile, CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger reports Israeli police have arrested three Palestinians accused of planning to poison customers at a popular restaurant in Jerusalem. The three, who are residents of Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, have confessed to being recruited by the Islamic terrorist group Hamas. One was a cook at the restaurant.

The plan was to lace pitchers of drinks with the poison. The plot has Israeli officials worried about a new form of terror, aimed at poisoning the food or water supply.

An Israeli newspaper reports that Hamas activists in the West Bank planned to blow up a Tel Aviv skyscraper with a huge truck bomb and to carry out a double suicide attack on an Israeli hospital, a newspaper reported Tuesday, citing court papers.

The details emerged from an indictment filed in an Israeli military court against Mohammed Jarrar, 20, an activist in the Islamic militant group in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, the Haaretz daily said.

And in the West Bank city of Nablus, a small Fatah cell, one of several operating relatively autonomously, recruited a 15-year-old boy to carry out a suicide attack in Israel, the boy's relatives said they were told by Israel's Shin Bet security.

Even if Fatah were successful in enforcing a ban among its militiamen, attacks on Israeli could continue as other factions, including the Islamic militant Hamas, have said they will continue targeting Israelis.

An Israeli government spokesman said Fatah's partial moratorium on attacks — excluding the West Bank and Gaza — was insufficient. "Attacks on innocent civilians are terrorism, no matter where they take place," said Daniel Seaman, director of the Government Press Office.

According to the letter, Fatah said that "we reject and will prevent all attacks on Israeli civilians to preserve the higher national interest of the Palestinian people and in accordance with our moral values and tolerant religion."

It marked the first time during the current conflict that a Palestinian faction has used a moral argument against attacks on civilians. In the past, critics of such attacks have said they served mainly Israel's interest, by triggering Israeli military offensives.

Fatah has also not in the past pledged to actually prevent attacks.

However, Fatah said it would continue resisting Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The leaflet did not specifically say that attacks in these areas would continue, but the word resistance is usually taken to mean that.

The letter was released just before senior Israeli and Palestinian officials were to meet in Tel Aviv to try to revive a gradual truce agreement, under which Israel would hand security control to the Palestinians in parts of the Gaza Strip.

Fatah leaders, including Marwan Barghouti, who is standing trial in Israel, have said in the past that they oppose attacks in Israel, while being committed to using force to drive Israelis out of the West Bank and Gaza.

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