- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2003

JERUSALEM — Palestinian officials yesterday condemned Hamas’ decision to pull out of talks aimed at ending suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis, saying the Islamic militant group’s refusal to accept a cease-fire could destroy the U.S.-backed peace process.

Late yesterday, Hamas leaders met with their counterparts from the Islamic Jihad and other radical factions, where they repeated their rejection of the call to stop attacks against Israel.

Hamas official Abdel Aziz Rantisi said, “All agree on our people’s rights to resist occupation.”

He said the groups did not change their earlier view that they would not stop suicide bombings and other attacks until Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian lands. Neither group accepts the idea of a Jewish state in the Mideast.

After the meeting, Islamic Jihad official Mohammed Hindi told the Associated Press, “No changes have been made in the previous position concerning the cease-fire.”

Reflecting the tension, Israel reimposed a closure on the West Bank, banning Palestinians from entering Israel except in humanitarian cases. It took effect at midnight yesterday “due to a government decision and serious security alerts,” a military statement said.

Israeli security sources have noted dozens of warnings of terror attacks, originating from the West Bank, in recent days. Israel lifted its last closure just a week ago, after a meeting between Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

As part of the U.S.-backed “road map” to Mideast peace, the Palestinians have to disarm and dismantle militant groups that have killed hundreds of Israelis in shootings and bombings in 32 months of fighting. Mr. Abbas has been trying to negotiate with the militias rather than use force.

But on Friday Hamas said it was cutting off talks in retaliation for Mr. Abbas’ concessions at a summit Wednesday in Jordan. At the meeting with President Bush and Mr. Sharon, Mr. Abbas called for an end to the “armed intifada.”

Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr, speaking before a Palestinian Cabinet meeting yesterday, urged Hamas to return to the negotiations and give Mr. Abbas a chance to defend his actions at the summit.

“The only way to resolve the issue … is through dialogue, and whoever leaves the negotiating table is the loser,” Mr. Amr said.

The Palestinian Parliament plans to hold a special session soon to hear a report from Mr. Abbas on the latest developments, Mr. Amr said.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said Mr. Abbas would never use force against Hamas and risk civil war, meaning Hamas’ decision could derail the peace plan.

“We either reach a voluntary cease-fire … or there will be no deal with Israel or road map,” Mr. Shaath said in an interview with Future TV, based in Lebanon. “Our friends in Hamas and Jihad should acknowledge this and act responsibly.”

Mr. Shaath accused Hamas leaders of jumping the gun by pulling out of the talks before Mr. Abbas could meet with them to explain what happened in closed meetings.

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