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U.S. 'holding back reports critical of Palestinians'

JERUSALEM – At the request of the Palestinians, the U.S. has been holding back from Israel reports critical of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ purported attempts to fight terrorism in the West Bank, according to diplomatic sources familiar with the reports.

The U.S. has been closely monitoring Abbas’ implementation of commitments to fight armed groups in the West Bank ahead of this week’s Annapolis summit. In line with understandings, State Department and U.S. security representatives were to share their observations with Israel while the U.S. also monitors Israeli commitments to dismantle anti-terror road blocks and to take initial steps toward bulldozing what are termed illegal outposts, or Jewish structures built in the West Bank without government permits.

While the U.S. has been reporting to the Palestinians on Israel’s actions on the ground ahead of Annapolis, according to informed diplomatic sources, it has withheld some State Department reports critical of Abbas’ Fatah security forces purported fight against terror.

Fatah forces in recent weeks carried out what it called arrest operations against some gunmen in the West Bank, including members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and leaders of Fatah’s declared military wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

According to Israeli security sources, Fatah rounded up some Brigades and PFLP members in the northern West Bank city of Nablus and transferred them to nearby Jericho, where they spent one night in a Fatah compound and were then freed but told they must stay in Jericho until after Annapolis. Most gunmen continue to receive room and board at Fatah compounds.

Several Brigades members rounded up and brought to Jericho, including a deputy commander of the terror group, last week entered U.S.-training courses for Fatah forces under way in the city. The U.S. and EU run regular training courses for Fatah militias to bolster Abbas against Hamas.

The Brigades, together with the Islamic Jihad terror group, has taken responsibility for every suicide bombing in Israel the past three years and has carried out thousands of shootings and rocket attacks against Jewish civilian population centers.

Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, U.S. security coordinator for the Palestinian territories, has been closely monitoring the actions of Fatah forces in the West Bank, particularly Nablus, a city that was to serve as a litmus test for Abbas’ ability to impose law and order in the West Bank. Dayton heads the U.S. team to train and arm Fatah and was the principal architect of a U.S. plan to fund Fatah forces.

According to diplomatic sources familiar with his reports, Dayton filed largely positive reviews of the performance in recent weeks of Abbas’ forces. But other State Department monitors and U.S. security coordinators wrote reviews highly critical of the U.S.-backed Fatah militias, some noting Abbas’ forces carried out mostly symbolic gestures.

The diplomatic sources said the critical U.S. reports were held back from Israel at the request of Abbas’ office for fear it would negatively impact negotiations leading up to this week’s Annapolis summit.

One Israeli security speaking to WND, though, balked at the alleged attempt to withhold the information.

“The U.S. is going to tell us something we don’t know about Fatah? Holding anything back won’t achieve anything,” he said.

At the Annapolis summit, Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are slated to issue a joint declaration that is widely expected to outline a Palestinian state to be created in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem.

Both the Israeli and Palestinian teams arrived in Washington yesterday.

The Israeli representatives – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzippy Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak – will meet today with President Bush, as will Abbas and his senior negotiators. Later, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will host a dinner for all conference participants; both she and Bush will address the dinner.

The Annapolis summit will officially open tomorrow at 10 a.m. Eastern with a three-way meeting between Bush, Olmert and Abbas, after which each will deliver a speech and Abbas and Olmert will present a joint Israeli-Palestinian document. Later, larger sessions with take place, with foreign ministers of several Arab countries, including Syria and Saudi Arabia, presenting their views.

On Wednesday, Olmert and Abbas will meet with Bush about specific ways to carry out the declarations presented at the conference. According to Israeli sources, the three will discuss creating a Palestinian state before Bush leaves office in January 2009.

To interview Aaron Klein, contact Tim Bueler Public Relations by e-mail, or call (530) 401-3285.

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