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Palestinian militants threaten to attack Jews abroad

Written by: Staff

GAZA, Apr 17 (Reuters) Palestinian militants linked to President Mahmoud Abbas's increasingly fractured Fatah movement threatened today to attack Jews overseas to force Israel to release Palestinian prisoners from its jails.

Two other main Palestinian militant groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also said they supported violence to free more than 8,000 prisoners held by the Jewish state, but neither explicitly backed attacks on Jews outside Israel.

The call by militants of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades could heighten tension between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which has been crippled financially by the loss of Western aid, and of tax and customs revenues frozen by Israel, after Hamas's crushing electoral win over Fatah in January.

''This is an open call to all our fighters in the homeland to focus on kidnapping Israeli soldiers and civilians inside our occupied land. And if the enemy does not release our prisoners, then Zionists outside Palestine will be an easy target for our fighters,'' the group said in a statement.

The threat was made shortly before a Palestinian suicide bomber killed himself and six other people at a sandwich stand in Tel Aviv, an attack claimed by both Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa.

The call could also sow discord between al-Aqsa militants and more moderate Fatah politicians including Abbas, who has been struggling to control gunmen from his own party.

Senior Fatah official and lawmaker Saeb Erekat declined to comment directly on the threat, but said securing freedom for prisoners was at the top of Abbas's agenda.

Palestinian security sources say al-Aqsa gunmen were behind some of the recent rash of kidnappings of foreigners in the Gaza Strip, which Israel quit last year after 38 years of occupation.

hey have also been involved in internal Palestinian clashes.

But gunmen from the group, which has also carried out suicide bombings and other attacks in Israel and the Palestinian territories during the five-year-old uprising, have not previously threatened Jews abroad.

The smaller Islamic Jihad group made a similar call, announcing at a Gaza rally that they might seize Israeli soldiers and settlers unless Palestinian prisoners are released.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, whose party now controls the Palestinian government, said militants had given Israel ''a complete chance'' to free the prisoners during a de facto truce reached last year.

''Therefore we believe our people have the right to use every possible means, including the use of force, to free prisoners and end their suffering,'' he said.

Israel freed nearly 400 prisoners in June as part of pledges to secure the ceasefire, but Palestinians said this was not enough.

Israel has said it will not release prisoners who have ''blood on their hands''.


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