Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has confirmed Saturday reports of a deal according to which Israel will stop chasing dozens of wanted Fatah gunmen in the West Bank if they agree to disarm.
The agreement, which is aimed at bolstering Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, was first published by Ynet Friday evening.
Officials in Jerusalem stressed that Zakariya Zubeidi was not on the list of some 180 wanted Fatah men Israel is expected to pardon, but the al-Aqsa Brigades leader said Palestinian Authority officials have informed him that he would be included in the deal.
According to the deal, the pardoned Fatah members will be permitted to join the Palestinian security services but will be prohibited from carrying arms.
As published by Ynet Friday evening, Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed on the granting of amnesty to dozens of wanted activists affiliated with the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Fatah's military wing in the West Bank.
In addition, the deal stated that five senior Fatah members, including Nayef Hawatmeh and Farouk Kadumi, will be allowed entry to the country in order to advance the endorsement of the group’s interim government, headed by Salam Fayyad.
“The agreement serves Israel’s interests in that the Fatah men on the list will lay down their arms and leave the cycle of terror,” a senior Israeli official said.
“The Palestinians will benefit from the fact that Israel will cease to hunt down those who form the foundation of Abbas’ forces in the West Bank.”
A senior source at the Prime Minister’s Office told Ynet that the gesture was made ahead of Olmert’s scheduled meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday “with the hope of revitalizing the negotiations and to further detach Abbas from Hamas”.
As part of the efforts to strengthen Abbas, three weeks ago Olmert announced at the Sharm el-Sheik summit that some 250 Palestinians ‘without blood on their hands’ would be released from Israeli jails. The list is currently being finalized and is expected to be brought before a ministerial committee at the beginning of the week.