- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 12, 2005

From combined dispatches

NABLUS, West Bank — Hamas, the major force behind a four-year suicide bombing campaign and sworn to the destruction of Israel, decided yesterday to run in a Palestinian parliamentary elections in July.

Hamas political leader Mohammed Ghazal said the group would decide after the vote whether to join Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Cabinet and whether to support his moves to renew peace talks with Israel.

“Until then, anything can happen,” Mr. Ghazal told reporters. “We still haven’t decided whether to be a part of the Palestinian government, and we haven’t decided on the issue of Israel. … We will decide in the future whether to talk to them.”

Hamas, founded in 1987, is the largest of the three Palestinian militant Islamic groups. The other two are Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Hamas is responsible for most of the suicide attacks against Israelis.

The Hamas decision comes as the Bush administration says it is willing to recognize a political role for Hamas and other Islamic terrorist groups.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an interview with The Washington Times Friday, cited Hamas’ recent participation in local council elections in the Gaza Strip and West Bank as an example of democracy’s potential to moderate militant groups.

“When people start getting elected and have to start worrying about constituencies and have to start worrying not about whether their fire-breathing rhetoric against Israel is being heard, but about whether or not that person’s child down the street is able to go to a good school or that road has been fixed or life is getting better, that things start to change,” Miss Rice told The Times.

“The elections in the Palestinian territories were kind of interesting in this regard. … Nine out of 10 municipalities went to Hamas.

“Well, we’ve kind of gone back to see, what did they talk about? Well, they talked about social services, and they talked about kids going to school and things like that.

“I don’t mean to underestimate the impact of radical Islamists having a say in the political process, but remember that the political process also has an effect on those who run in it,” she said.

Hamas did not participate in the last parliamentary election in 1996, refusing to recognize the interim peace deal that led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.

But the group emerged as a key player in Palestinian politics in January with its victory in Gaza’s municipal elections and gains in the West Bank.

Hamas has won popular support partly because of its fight against Israel, but also because it has provided welfare and social services to poverty-stricken Palestinians.

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