- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

1:02 p.m.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The rival Hamas and Fatah movements have agreed on a plan implicitly recognizing Israel, a top Palestinian official said today after weeks of acrimonious negotiations aiming to lift crippling international aid sanctions.

Fatah and Hamas officials praised the agreement, but it was overshadowed by a crisis triggered by militants’ abduction of an Israeli soldier.

Moderate Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah has been trying to coax his Hamas rivals into endorsing the document, which calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, in effect recognizing the Jewish state. He has endorsed the plan as a way to end sanctions against the Hamas-led Palestinian government and pave the way to reopening peace talks with Israel.

“We have an agreement over the document,” said Ibrahim Abu Najah, coordinator of the “national dialogue” over the proposal. “There is no complicated issue left because everyone signed and everyone approved the document.”

The plan calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel and accepts a 2002 proposal endorsed by the Arab League, which offered the possibility of full diplomatic relations with Israel.

It also calls on militants to limit attacks to areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War and calls on the parties to work toward forming a Palestinian unity government.

“It’s a historic moment and an important moment in our history,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said. “In the shadow of the escalation and the aggression against our people, our people emphasized unity.”

However, the deal was opposed by Islamic Jihad, a small militant group that has carried out numerous attacks against Israel.

“In today’s meeting, we announced we reject some of the articles of this document and we have reservations about other articles,” Islamic Jihad spokesman Khaled al-Batch said.

With Hamas-linked militants holding an Israeli soldier captured Sunday, the Palestinian agreement is even less likely to reduce tensions. Israel has massed troops along its border with Gaza, promising a broad offensive into the area.

Hamas and Fatah have been locked in a bloody power struggle since Hamas won January’s legislative elections. Hamas controls the parliament and Cabinet. Mr. Abbas was elected separately last year.

The document was formulated by senior Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

“I can say to the world and to our people that we have an agreement over the prisoners’ document, which is the national consensus agreement,” top Fatah leader Samir Masharawi said.

Acceptance of the plan marks a significant concession by Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction and has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings. Still, it falls short of demands by Israel, the United States and Europe that Hamas renounce violence and give full recognition to Israel.

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