Abbas: Qaeda Is In Gaza, West Bank

Palestinian workers destroy vegetables during a protest on the Palestinian side of the Karni crossing against Israel's closing of the main cargo crossing between Israel and in the Gaza Strip, Thursday, March, 2, 2006. Israel said security considerations were behind its decision to keep the Karni crossing closed Thursday, counter to expectations. The Karni passage has been closed since an explosion there on Feb. 21.
The Al Qaeda terror network has infiltrated the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and its operations there could have dire consequences for the entire region, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview published Thursday.

"We have signs of an al Qaeda presence in the West Bank and Gaza," Abbas told the London-based Al Hayat newspaper, without elaborating. "The infiltration of al Qaeda can ruin the whole region," he said.

Palestinian security forces haven't captured any Al Qaeda operatives, he told the newspaper.

Israel said it is aware of the al Qaeda presence, and that it is intensifying the war on terror, reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger (audio). It recently arrested a Palestinian it said worked for the group. And Jordan's King Abdullah has said al Qaeda has set up terror cells in Israel.

In other developments:

  • The Palestinian ambassador in Moscow suggested that Hamas, due to take charge of the Palestinian Authority this month, would moderate their violent anti-Israel ideology, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. Hamas "ties the question of recognizing Israel as a state with the necessity to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories," Ambassador Bakir Abdel Munem was quoted as saying in an interview. He is not a member of Hamas.
  • A Hamas spokesman says the militant group has been invited to South Africa for talks with officials. No date was given. Hamas leaders are due to visit Russia on Friday and have also been invited to Venezuela for talks with government officials there.
  • Israel kept the Gaza Strip's main cargo crossing at Karni closed Thursday, disappointing Palestinian farmers. It has been closed since an explosion there Feb. 21, amid Israeli concerns that Palestinian militants were planning attacks there — concerns Palestinians say are unjustified. "The continued closure is causing humanitarian and economic harm to the Palestinian people, and threatening a real shortage in food supplies," said Salim Abu Safiyeh, director-general of the Palestinian Border Authority.
  • The same Bush administration review panel that approved a ports deal involving the United Arab Emirates has notified a leading Israeli software company that it faces a rare, full-blown investigation over its plans to buy a smaller Maryland rival. The company was told U.S. officials feared the transaction could endanger some of government's most sensitive computer systems.
  • Support for acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima party has dropped to its lowest point since it was established in November, reports Berger (audio). According to a new poll, Kadima would win 37 seats in the 120 member parliament, down from a high of 44 seats a few weeks ago. But Olmert should still win by a landslide. The hawkish Likud party, led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made a slight gain to just 15 seats.

    Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has repeatedly identified Israel as a target, and the Palestinian cause as one of the reasons for the network's attacks.

    "There are, of course, attempts by terror elements, including international ones, to extend their reach in areas adjacent to us," Olmert told reporters in Jerusalem.

    "We will respond to terror with an iron fist," he said. "There are no restraints on security forces to use any means necessary to stop attacks."

    Olmert spoke after a rash of shootings and stabbings claimed the life of one Israeli civilian and injured five since Tuesday. In the latest attack, just a month before Israel's March 28 elections, an Israeli man was stabbed in the neck at an Israeli factory in northern Jerusalem on Thursday.

    Additionally, militants in Palestinian-controlled Gaza have been firing homemade rockets at southern Israel, unsettling residents but causing few injuries.

    In recent weeks, Israel has stepped up arrest raids in the West Bank and carried out pinpointed killings of Gaza militants it says were involved in planning or carrying out attacks. It denied involvement, however, in a car blast Wednesday in Gaza City that killed Islamic Jihad's top military commander in Gaza, Khaled Dahdouh.

    In other news, about three dozen Fatah gunmen briefly fired in the air outside the Palestinian parliament building Thursday. One of the gunmen, Kamel Ghanem, said the group staged the protest because it was afraid Fatah, defeated in Jan. 25 parliament elections, would be marginalized by the victorious Hamas.