JERUSALEM – Israeli officials on Sunday said they foiled a recent attempt by Palestinian militants to assassinate Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during a trip to the West Bank and warned the plot could hurt prospects for an upcoming U.S.-hosted Mideast peace conference.
Palestinian officials said Olmert was never in imminent danger and accused Israel of trying to exploit the plot to hinder progress before the summit.
Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have been trying to hammer out a joint document outlining their common vision for a future peace agreement. They hope to present the document at the peace conference, which is expected to take place in Annapolis, Md., in November or December.
Palestinians said Israel’s decision to disclose the plot, more than three months after it was uncovered, appeared to be aimed at heading off the pressure.
“It clouds the atmosphere of the conference,” Olmert said before leaving on a trip to France.
Israel has long said peace efforts cannot progress until the Palestinians crack down on militant groups. Israeli officials said they were especially upset that Palestinian security forces released three suspects arrested in the plot, though two of the men were subsequently re-arrested.
The assassination plot was disclosed to the Israeli Cabinet by Yuval Diskin, director of the Shin Bet internal security agency.
According to meeting participants, Diskin said Palestinian gunmen had planned to attack Olmert’s convoy as it entered the West Bank town of Jericho on Aug. 6 for a meeting with Abbas. Diskin said the gunmen were linked to Abbas’ Fatah movement, said the participants, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In Jerusalem, Palestinian Prime Minster Salam Fayyad said Olmert was never seriously threatened. He said three suspects were arrested, and only released after three months of questioning.