- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2002

JERUSALEM European officials are playing a key role in brokering secret talks among 12 Palestinian factions, using economic and other inducements to press for an agreement to end attacks on civilians inside Israel, senior Palestinian officials say.
Top Hamas officials said the parties came close to a deal late last week and still were likely to conclude, within the next few days, an agreement to end suicide attacks in Israel.
The monthlong talks in Gaza City, which intensified last week, seek to bring Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, Hamas and other groups together on a common approach to reforms, elections and resistance to Israel.
Hatem Abdel-Qader, a senior member of Fatah who was involved in the negotiations, said former British intelligence agent Alistair Crooke had played a pivotal role in bringing the factions together.
Mr. Crooke, security adviser to Miguel Moratinos, the European Union's special representative to the Middle East, first approached Fatah and its armed operatives in the Tanzim militia several weeks ago, Mr. Qader said.
He said Mr. Crooke promised economic and other support to the groups if they would "start a dialogue with Hamas" and other factions to persuade them to stop "martyrdom attacks" inside Israel.
Mr. Crooke, who was instrumental in negotiations to end the siege of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity earlier this year, has held a series of discussions with grass-roots Tanzim activists and recently met Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas, urged on by Mr. Crooke, agreed with Fatah to stop suicide missions and other attacks against Israeli civilians including mortar strikes from Gaza at the end of last month and was hours away from releasing a document to that effect.
But on July 23 an Israeli warplane bombed a house in Gaza City that killed Sheik Salah Shehadeh, Hamas' military commander, and 14 others, including nine children.
Hamas responded with another wave of bombings while Israel expressed deep skepticism about published reports that the Islamic fundamentalist group had been close to announcing a truce.
Mr. Crooke, who was in Gaza again over the weekend, has been trying to bring negotiations back to where they were at before the air raid.
Officials involved in those talks said the groups were on the verge of signing a document Thursday night. This was held up because of last-minute wrangling, but the officials believe a resolution could be just days away.
"The Palestinian factions are very close to signing an agreement," said Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a senior Hamas spokesman. "After one or two more sessions, we will have a joint understanding and the document will see the light."
A European diplomat involved in the push for a cease-fire said: "There is confidence that the underlying trend is in the right direction.
"Hamas does not go in for something and then suddenly change course it is noted for sticking to its word. This move toward stopping attacks in Israel is critical because until we can get the level of violence down, there will be no political process."
Mr. Qader said that the various Palestinian factions understand the necessity to change political direction.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide