- - Thursday, December 29, 2011

JERUSALEM — A senior Hamas official has ordered the Islamist militant group to cease attacks on Israel, according to senior Fatah officials cited by the Ha’aretz daily newspaper.

Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal issued the order to the group’s military wing last month after reconciliation talks in Cairo with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Fatah party, the officials told Ha’aretz.

Israeli officials say they are unaware of any change in Hamas‘ policy.

However, Hamas already has refrained from firing rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip in recent months.

A change in Mr. Meshal’s tone has been detectable in recent weeks.

Last week, he said popular protest, separate from armed struggle, has “the power of a tsunami,” citing recent uprisings in the Arab world.

Mr. Meshal expressed support for a united Palestinian state that includes the West Bank, which is controlled by Fatah; the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas; and East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed.

Fatah and we have political differences, but the common ground is agreement on a state within the 1967 borders,” he said, referring to Israel’s boundaries before the Six Day War.

Mr. Meshal has not renounced Hamas‘ charter, which calls for the elimination of Israel, and said he reserves the right to resort to violence in the future.

The Fatah officials said Hamas will not recognize Israel, will reject any peace deals with the Jewish state and does not intend to stop arming itself.

Still, the new policy marks a divergence from Mr. Meshal’s previous militant rhetoric and signals a shift in strategy that could encourage Israeli consideration.

Other militant groups in Gaza, like Islamic Jihad, have not endorsed Mr. Meshal’s position and continue to send rockets into Israel periodically, although far less than in the past — presumably because Hamas has reined them in.

Hamas‘ leadership in Gaza, which frequently differs with Mr. Meshal, expressed surprise at his new position, reiterating that “the only way to liberate the occupied lands is through armed struggle.”

Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hamad said the group’s “internal leadership” — the Gaza leadership, as distinct from the political leadership based in Damascus — will not necessarily abide by Mr. Meshal’s new policy.

Mr. Meshal said the decision to resort to a popular struggle was made by Hamas‘ advisory body, the Shura Council, on which all senior members of the organization sit.

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