- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2003

TEL AVIV — Three leading Palestinian militias, including Islamic groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have agreed to a three-month halt to attacks on Israel, according to a report quoting a Palestinian official close to the talks.

The report, which offered crucial momentum to a U.S.-backed initiative to end 32 months of bloodshed, was denied by a Hamas official and other Palestinians.

And just as the flurry of bulletins heralding the cease-fire emerged yesterday afternoon, Israeli helicopters began a missile attack in the Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis against Palestinians suspected of militant activity, killing two and wounding more than a dozen.

The strike could well scuttle negotiations conducted intermittently during the past year between Hamas and Fatah, the political party of Palestinian Authority chief Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

In Washington, President Bush played down the cease-fire reports, saying any formula for Middle East peace must include the disarming of such groups as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Mr. Bush said at a news conference with European leaders. “The true test for Hamas and terrorist organizations is the complete dismantlement of their terrorist networks, their capacity to blow up the peace process.”

The U.S. House said yesterday that Israel’s forceful response to Palestinian attacks was justified, and concluded that Middle East violence will stop only when Palestinian strikes cease.

A House resolution, passed 399-5, condemned attacks on Israel since Mr. Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Mr. Abbas met in Jordan three weeks ago for talks on the U.S.-backed “road map” for Middle East peace.

But some lawmakers warned that the measure was one-sided. They said it is silent about Israel’s attempts to assassinate Palestinians suspected of militancy, and undermines the U.S. role as a fair mediator in the peacemaking effort.

Even before the news of the cease-fire, Hamas spokesmen had been sounding a surprisingly conciliatory note toward Israel. Speaking to reporters in Gaza City on Tuesday, Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab suggested that the organization could one day recognize an Israeli state living alongside a Palestinian one, the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday.

“Let’s be frank, we cannot destroy Israel. The practical solution is for us to have a state alongside Israel,” the Hamas moderate was quoted as saying. “When we build a Palestinian state, we will not need these militias; all the needs for attack will stop. Everything will change into a civil life.”

Yesterday, Fatah official Kadura Fares told the Associated Press that a statement on the cease-fire was imminent. Mr. Fares said the agreement had been signed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders in Damascus and brokered in part by Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti from his Israeli jail cell.

Israel’s public radio suggested that the contacts had been made without the knowledge of Mr. Abbas or Hamas’ leadership in Gaza.

Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi denied that an agreement had been finalized with Fatah on a cease-fire, known in Arabic as “hudna,” the Ha’aretz newspaper Web site reported.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide