Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel and the Palestinians are bracing for an increase in terror attacks as they move forward in negotiating a final status agreement.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said he expected a rise in attempted terror incidents against Israeli and Jewish targets worldwide, and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat pledged to do all he could to prevent terrorism against Israel.
At a meeting with Israel's General Security Services chief, Ami Ayalon, Arafat said the PA was especially alert, with the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Islamic Jihad leader Fathi Shkaki coming later this month. The group is expected to launch an attack marking that anniversary.
Israel's Barak predicted that "there will be attempts to torpedo the peace process by extremist elements, that might try through terrorist acts, not necessarily in Israel, but also abroad, to try to hit Israeli or Jewish interests." Barak made the comment as he spoke with told reporters yesterday.
His office said it had not received any specific warnings of planned attacks. In the past, however, opponents of the peace process have launched attacks in an apparent bid to stop negotiations.
More than 300 Israelis have been killed in terror attacks - including 19 suicide bombings - since the first Oslo agreement was signed in September 1993.
Barak urged Western nations to take special precautions against such attacks to ensure "that these attempts will not succeed."
Israel and the Palestinians have been moving forward in the negotiating process since Barak and Arafat signed the Sharm el-Sheik memorandum on September 4. In line with that agreement, Israel has thus far released 199 convicted Palestinian security prisoners whom the PA considers champions in the fight for statehood, relinquished civilian control over another seven per cent of the West Bank, and renewed permanent status negotiations at the time stipulated.
Palestinian obligations in the Sharm accord were primarily security related. Israeli security services say security cooperation between Israel and the PA has improved since the signing of the Sharm el-Sheik agreement. The PA has also handed over a list of its policemen, to be approved by Israel as required in the accord.
There have been a few stumbling blocks along the way. Negotiations for a "safe passage" for Palestinians traveling from Gaza to Hebron broke down, delaying the opening of the route. However, rules governing the operation of the corridor were agreed upon last week, and the route should be open by next week, sources say. A PA office empowered to receive applications for those wanting to travel on the safe passage, is due to open today.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are still at odds over the release of a second round of 150 Palestinian prisoners, due to have been freed last Friday. Israel has said that it will not release Palestinians who have killed or seriously wounded Israelis in terror attacks, and therefore does not have enough prisoners to release.
Instead, Israel presented a list including Palestinians from "rejectionist" groups and those who have only a few months left to serve of their sentences. The PA has rejected some 42 prisoners on the Israeli list, saying they do not meet the specified criteria.