Israel's raid of the Jericho prison is an "unforgivable crime" and an insult to the Palestinian people, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said during a tour of the demolished complex Wednesday.
Abbas cut short his Europe trip and rushed back to the West Bank in response to the raid. Later Wednesday, Abbas was to tour Jericho's hospital to visit those wounded in Tuesday's fighting.
Abbas added, "Unfortunately this operation had no aims but to humiliate the Palestinian Authority and attain internal profits for Israel,” apparently referring to Israel’s election race. “This operation was illegal. We offered to take responsibility and replace the monitors, but they refused,” he said.
“We cannot sit back and accept these actions. We are in touch with the United Nations Secretary General (Kofi Annan) and the leaders of Arab countries to see what can be done. The Palestinian fury is justified. The detention of (Ahmed) Saadat and his men in Israeli prison is illegal,” Abbas said.
The PA chairman also addressed the kidnap of over a dozen foreign aid workers, teachers and journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip yesterday by Palestinian gunmen. “The foreign citizens are our guests, and therefore I call on all the organizations not to harm them, because they are our guests and our brother and they came here to help us. When I see these ruins and our hundreds of brothers that were kidnapped and taken to Israeli prison, I see this as a crime. This is a grave blow to the Palestinian Authority,” Abbas said.
Addressing charges that the Palestinians violated the agreement on the conditions of the confinement of a number of terrorists, Abbas said, “The wardens sent us weekly reports telling of minor violations. One prisoner brought a cell phone into the prison, another hosted a journalist, and a third brought his family in to visit. We dealt with all of the incidents. It is true, the (British and American) monitors warned a week ago that they would leave, but they did not specify when. Even the British foreign minister admitted yesterday they didn’t inform us, so we should not be reprimanded for this.
“The world needs to know that we are upholding the agreements and the Israelis are not.”
'Israel has restored your honor'
Abbas insisted that Israel was aware of the British plan to abandon the jail. “The Israeli army entered with tanks just minutes after the foreign wardens left, so this operation was obviously planned in advance,” he said.
Nasr al-Kidwa, Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, also fiercely censured Israel’s military operation at the Jericho prison yesterday and called on Israel to return the prisoners to the Palestinian Authority, including Ahmed Saadat, who masterminded the murder of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001.
“Any further action, including trying the prisoners in an Israeli court, will be a flagrant violation of the international agreements and will lead to more severe problems,” al-Kidwa wrote in a statement.
For his part, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert praised the success of the operation. Speaking following a meeting with a senior police chief, Olmert said, “Rehavam Zeevi, Israel has restored your honor with the operation we carried out yesterday.”
Olmert reiterated that the timing of the operation was determined by the United States and British decision to withdraw their wardens Tuesday. Olmert noted there was no chance Zeevi’s murderers would go free or wouldn’t stand trial in Israel.
Is the PA crumbling?
Meanwhile, dozens of Fatah activists throughout the West Bank demanded Wednesday that Abbas announce the dismantlement of the PA following Israel's operation in the Jericho prison Tuesday. Senior Fatah members - including top lawmakers, district mayors, and members of the Palestinian National Council - signed a letter to Abbas Wednesday, saying: "You must demand of the international community to take responsibility for Israel's conduct and for the rights of the Palestinian people."
In the letter, the Fatah activists say that after the humiliation of the Palestinian security forces Tuesday witnessed by the whole world, and their inability to fulfill their jobs or keep the prisoners in the prisons, and considering Israel's cooperation with the United Stated, the diplomatic process has hit a dead end.
"Therefore, we demand the PA announce its dismantlement as quickly as possible, owing to the absence of any hope of dealing with the occupation, and considering the American and British stances, and the complete hopelessness of attaining Saadat's release, we see the dismantlement of the PA as the only solution," the Fatah activists wrote.
Efrat Weiss and Ali Waked contributed to the report