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Israel, Palestinians argue over militant disarmament

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Jerusalem (dpa) - The Israeli government on Sunday sharply criticised denials from the Palestinian leadership that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had promised Israel it would dismantle and disarm militant groups.

Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Israeli radio that the Palestinian denials were akin to a "scatterbomb'' and could derail the Middle East peace process.

Olmert's comments follow statements from Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa, who said Saturday that the PA would not disarm militants as long as the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories remained in effect.

The disarmament of militant groups was not on the current Palestinian agenda, al-Kidwa insisted.

Palestinian Deputy Premier Nabil Shaath, speaking to Voice of Palestine radio on Saturday, echoed al-Kidwa's comments. Shaath denied that a commitment to disarm militants had been agreed with Israel at the February 8 summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The Palestinian comments have provoked concern on the Israeli side, with Vice Premier Shimon Peres calling on al-Kidwa to clarify his statements.

Olmert meanwhile declared that if the Palestinian leadership was not prepared to tackled the "terror'' groups, then that job would fall to Israel.

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