- The Washington Times - Monday, September 2, 2002

JERUSALEM A former British MI6 officer has spent much of the past two weeks in Gaza and the West Bank attempting to persuade radical groups to halt their attacks inside Israel's internationally recognized borders.
Alistair Crooke, an adviser to the European Union's special envoy to the Middle East, has met leaders of extremist factions such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well as the Fatah movement of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader.
He also is expected to pay a discreet visit to several neighboring Arab countries soon in an attempt to win support from Hamas hard-liners.
Mr. Crooke, 53, who has worked in the Middle East for two years after a long career in the British intelligence agency MI6, began the secret EU initiative four months ago. An ascetic figure who drinks sparingly and dresses down in jeans, he prefers to use local Arab taxis and often works alone.
His clandestine efforts recently have attracted the interest of the Israeli media, with one newspaper describing him as "brave to the point of madness."
An Israeli intelligence officer was quoted as saying: "Don't be fooled by his innocent, quiet appearance. You don't want to meet him in a dark alley in the middle of the night. Ask the mujahideen in Afghanistan or the drug barons of Colombia. He's no sucker."
Mr. Crooke works for Miguel Moratinos, the EU's special representative to the Middle East. He indicated that EU economic inducements would be available to Fatah if it "starts a dialogue with Hamas" and other factions to persuade them to stop "martyrdom attacks" inside Israel, said Hatem Abdel-Qader, a Fatah leader.
Fatah publicly backs the push to end attacks on civilians inside Israel although its own military wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, has been responsible for several bloody suicide bombings on Israelis.
Mr. Crooke, who stays in a hotel in Jerusalem and has periodically set up offices in the West Bank, played a key role in negotiations earlier this year to end the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He recently met Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, in the Gaza Strip.
Although there has been no specific public criticism from the Israeli military of his activities and meetings with Hamas, some senior officials are understood to be uneasy about his work.
One Israeli newspaper said: "His presence here represents a certain flicker, a shadow of international intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that is something that no one in the Israeli Defense Forces wants to accept."
Hamas, urged on by Mr. Crooke, reportedly 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 they were thought to have been just hours away from releasing a document to that effect.

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