Last update - 14:36 29/12/2007
PA Min. says gov't dismantles Al-Aqsa and other militant groups
The top Palestinian security official said on Saturday his government was dismantling militant groups, including those connected to President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction.
"There is no Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades any more," Yahya told Voice of Palestine radio, referring to Fatah's largest armed group.
The pledge by Interior Minister Abdel-Razak al-Yahya came one day after Palestinian militants killed two Israelis who were hiking near the West Bank city of Hebron. Two of the militants were also killed in an ensuing gunbattle.
Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed at a U.S.-sponsored peace conference last month in Annapolis, Maryland to launch negotiations with the goal of reaching a statehood agreement by the end of 2008.
But Israel has said it will not implement any agreement until the Palestinians meet their obligations under the long-stalled "road map" peace plan to rein in militants in the West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Hamas Islamists seized control of Gaza in June after routing Abbas's secular Fatah forces there, but Fatah still holds sway in the West Bank.
The Palestinians assert that they are meeting their security obligations in the West Bank by launching a security clampdown in some of the largest cities.
After speaking of the dismantling of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Yahya said: "We wish they [other groups] will respond positively and follow al-Aqsa's example."
He said Abbas's Western-backed government has started "working to dismantle" other militant groups, though he did not spell out how that would be accomplished.
He stopped short of threatening to deploy his forces against those who resist the security clampdown, but he said: "We will impose law and order".
Western diplomats say Abbas's forces have taken serious steps in parts of the West Bank to impose law and order, and to crack down on Hamas militants.
But the diplomats questioned the government's ability to disarm Fatah militants on a larger scale, noting al-Aqsa's decentralised command and control structure.
A unit of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the Gaza Strip issued a statement in the Gaza Strip accusing Yahya of being a "collaborator" who follows "American and Zionist masters".
"We will pursue Jihad and resistance until we liberate Palestine from the Zionists," the statement said.