- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 13, 2002

JERUSALEM Palestinian factions meeting yesterday to create a "national unity leadership" gave into militant groups yesterday, rejecting a proposal to end attacks on Israeli civilians.

The Palestinian factions including militant ones such as Hamas have been holding talks in Gaza City with the aim of establishing a unified Palestinian position in preparation for elections and other reforms after almost two years of Middle East fighting.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement was the driving force behind the meetings.

Fatah offered a draft proposal that called for an end to attacks against civilians inside Israel, participants at the talks said.

"We stress the legitimacy of our resistance against the [Israeli] aggression and the occupation, and the Israeli settlements," the draft now says.

All factions agreed to the draft in principle, though Hamas still was consulting its leadership before formalizing its acceptance.

If all factions agree, the Palestinians would establish a 20-member national unity leadership that would include members from all parties. The body would consult with Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority in the run-up to Palestinian elections tentatively planned for January.

However, the current Palestinian leadership would remain in place and the powers of the new body were not clear.

"We call for the quick establishment of a national unity leadership in which everybody will participate," the proposal says. The body would help with "a comprehensive reform process in all the Palestinian institutions."

The Palestinians are under heavy international pressure to halt attacks, reform their security services and carry out political reforms.

A military court yesterday approved the expulsions of Palestinian relatives of suspected terrorists from the West Bank to Gaza, Israeli media reported.

Human rights activists said the decision would be appealed to Israeli civilian courts.

The expulsions would be the first of their kind, a new Israeli tactic aimed at discouraging Palestinians from carrying out attacks. The Israeli Defense Ministry and military refused to comment on the report.

The Palestinian leadership has said it believes it could exert more influence over Hamas by bringing them into the fold.

However, Hamas has carried out more suicide bombings than any other group and its potential inclusion in a Palestinian leadership body does not inspire confidence inside Israel's government.

"Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel, and all talks between them and the Palestinian Authority until now have come to nothing," said Mark Sofer, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry.

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