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Hamas sets truce terms, Israel demands crackdown
( 2003-11-03 09:12) (Agencies)

The Islamic group Hamas ruled out on Monday halting militancy in a three-year-old Palestinian revolt but said it could limit attacks to Israeli soldiers and settlers if the Jewish state stopped harming Palestinian civilians.

The declaration by Hamas chief spokesman Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi could set terms in a dialogue sought by Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie on reining in violence in order to advance a U.S.-backed "road map" envisaging peaceful statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip alongside Israel.

Top Hamas official Abdel-Azia al-Rantissi talks in Gaza, Nov. 2, 2003. Al-Rantissi said Hamas is willing to stop attacks against Israeli civilians if Israel stops killing Palestinian civilians but the group will continue to target Israeli occupation.  [Reuters]
"The issue that will be possible to be addressed (with the Palestinian Authority) is continuing the resistance to the (Israeli) occupation while avoiding civilian casualties," Rantissi told Reuters at a Gaza Strip safe house. "But if the enemy (Israel) does not accept then resistance will continue comprehensively," he said.

Israel insists on an anti-militant crackdown by the Palestinian Authority as required by the road map, a move rejected by Palestinian officials as a recipe for civil war.

"The only way forward remains unchanged. It is adopting the road map's call for the dismantling of the vast terrorist infrastructure by the Palestinian Authority and the incarceration of terrorist operatives," said Dore Gold, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Hamas is sworn to the Jewish state's destruction and its suicide bombings prompted Israeli assassination campaigns against group leaders -- including Rantissi, who barely survived a helicopter missile strike on his car in June.


Squeezed between Israeli military sweeps and mounting Palestinian radicalism, Qurie last week invited militants to discuss a cease-fire that might lead Israel to ease its grip on the West Bank and Gaza. Qurie has also been cobbling together a new cabinet mindful of his predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned in September after a unilateral suspension of attacks he secured from militants collapsed in a new round of tit-for-tat violence.

"We are trying to help Abu Ala (Qurie) to avoid the failure of Abu Mazen (Abbas) by offering to stop attacks on civilians if the enemy accepts to do the same," Rantissi said.

Like most Palestinians, Hamas considers some 250,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied territories as legitimate targets, a view rejected internationally. It says only Palestinians who themselves carry out attacks should be considered combatants.

There is a growing Israeli belief that militant groups are exploiting discontent in the occupied territories, where the uprising erupted in September 2000 after peace talks stalled, and that the Palestinian Authority must therefore be shored up. Israel allowed in more than 6,000 Palestinians to work on Sunday, in a tentative easing of sweeping restrictions on movement that were criticized by the army chief a few days ago.

As part of the latest tentative detente, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has been preparing to meet Palestinian officials, and Sharon has said he would welcome talks with Qurie. Qurie said on Saturday he was willing to take up the offer.

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