- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Hamas-led Palestinian government offered yesterday to restore a cease-fire with Israel, nearly a week after calling off the truce to protest a deadly explosion on a Gaza beach.

Israel responded favorably, signaling that both sides are prepared to step back from fighting that threatened to escalate into a broader conflict.

A Hamas official said the group was in touch with other Gaza militants to try to halt daily rocket barrages against Israel, which set off Israeli air and artillery retaliation.

The truce, declared in February 2005, greatly reduced Palestinian-Israeli violence, which had claimed more than 3,000 lives in the four years before.

But Hamas called it off after an explosion last Friday on a Gaza beach that killed eight Palestinian civilians. Israel was shelling Gaza around that time but insisted it was not responsible for the explosion.

Hamas sent its own rocket squads to fire at Israel alongside Islamic Jihad and other militants.

The barrages have tapered off somewhat in the past day, an indication that Hamas was sidelining its militants. Islamic Jihad fired five rockets yesterday.

“We are interested to keep the … quiet, especially in the Gaza Strip,” government spokesman Ghazi Hamad of Hamas said yesterday. “We have contacts with the Palestinian factions. We are ready to do it, but [only] if the Israeli side has a strong intention to respond positively to the call … to stop their aggression.”

Israel welcomed the gesture. “If it is quiet, we will answer that with quiet,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

The initiative received backing from the powerful exiled Hamas leadership.

In Damascus, Syria, the deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said: “If Israel agrees to stop targeting civilians, then [Hamas] will take a positive stance.”

The Hamas announcement came shortly after the Palestinian information minister arrived in Gaza with $2 million in his luggage, the second straight day a senior Hamas official has hand-delivered money to the cash-strapped government.

Youssef Rizka’s suitcase delivery signaled that Hamas has opened a new front in its battle against international sanctions by taking matters into its own hands — literally.

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar returned to Gaza from a trip to Muslim countries with $20 million in his luggage. Hamas said all the money came from private donations and charities, not governments.

The fighting with Israel has complicated an already difficult situation for Hamas, which is under intense international pressure to adopt a more moderate stance and is grappling with bloody infighting against the rival Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

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