- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 22, 2001

RAMALLAH, West Bank The Islamic militant group Hamas said yesterday it was suspending suicide attacks in Israel in the interest of Palestinian unity, but a deadly gun battle between Palestinians raised the specter of a bloody civil war.
The Islamic jihad group also said it would suspend suicide attacks against Israel to help prevent rifts within Palestinian society until it decided on a further course of action.
At least five persons were killed and more than 70 wounded in the clashes between militants and Yasser Arafat's Palestinian police in Gaza's Jabaliya refugee camp yesterday, hospital officials said.
The fighting, the worst between Palestinians since 1994, showed the extent of resistance the Palestinian leader must overcome to meet Israeli and international demands to rein in militants involved in a wave of suicide bombings.
Israeli officials dismissed Hamas' decision, made after talks between the group and the Palestinian Authority, as a sham.
"This is a tactical move by Hamas which is a terrorist organization," said Gideon Meir, a senior Foreign Ministry official. "I think there is an agreement, a silent agreement to postpone the crackdown for a while."
But Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said: "We shall judge them by their acts. I must say that tonight the Palestinian Authority started really to act more seriously. I hope they will continue and really bring a cease-fire."
The leader of the main Palestinian political-military faction, Fatah, meanwhile, warned the international community that it has "days" to obtain significant political concessions from Israel or else the 15-month uprising will resume.
"Of course the intifada should continue," said Marwan Barghouthi, 42, who heads the mainstream Palestinian faction. "But we are giving a chance for the international efforts. Unfortunately, though, the Israelis are trying to destroy it."
He cautioned that if the Americans and Europeans do not meet Palestinian requirements, including a timetable for Israeli withdrawal, by "changing the situation on the ground in the next few days, the situation will be very difficult."
The Hamas announcement seemed designed to curb the clashes between Palestinian militants and police and offered a glimmer of hope of stanching the bloodshed that has surged in the past few weeks of the 15-month-old conflict.
"We declare the suspension of martyrdom attacks inside the occupied land of 1948 and a suspension of mortar fire until further notice," Hamas said in a prepared statement, referring to the Jewish state founded in 1948 and calling for national unity.
Hamas official Saed Sayam said the movement would "preserve the right of resistance against the occupation and right to respond to Israel's crimes."
The violence in Jabaliya yesterday began after gunmen sprayed a police building with automatic weapons fire and police shot back, sending mourners in the funeral procession for a teen-ager killed overnight scurrying for cover, witnesses said.
In another sign of internal tension, militants and hundreds of stone-throwers thwarted an attempt Thursday by Palestinian police to arrest Hamas military leader Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi.
Mr. Arafat has outlawed the military wings of Hamas and other groups, arrested dozens of militants, and called for an end to suicide bombings and armed attacks on Israelis. Israel has said the arrests have not gone far enough.
Mr. Barghouthi spoke to The Washington Times as he joined hands with the top figures in Hamas and other radical Palestinian movements for a march from Ramallah's main Jamal Abdel-Nasser Mosque after Friday prayers. The demonstrators walked chanting toward Israeli armored personnel carriers blocking a road not far from Mr. Arafat's headquarters.
Mr. Barghouthi was joined in the march by Sheik Ahmed Hassan, the third-ranking Hamas leader, who said suspending Hamas' "martyrdom operations" within Israel was just a temporary expedient in the course of a long jihad.
Mr. Barghouthi said the march demonstrated unity among the various factions erroneously believed by the West to be at loggerheads.
"By this united stand you see today we will succeed to prove to the international community that the Palestinians are really the victims of an Israeli war," declared Mr. Barghouthi, who spent six years in Israeli jails for activities as a student leader.
The 42-year-old stalwart of Fatah, a movement started by Mr. Arafat in 1965, has been on the run since just before his apartment was surrounded by Israeli soldiers earlier this month.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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