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Hamas leader says breaking off truce { June 6 2003 }

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Hamas leader says Islamic militant group is breaking off truce talks
IBRAHIM HAZBOUN, Associated Press Writer
Friday, June 6, 2003
2003 Associated Press


(06-06) 04:04 PDT GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) --

A senior Hamas official said Friday the militant group is breaking off talks with the Palestinian prime minister on halting attacks on Israelis, a surprise reversal that throws into doubt a key component of a U.S.-backed Mideast peace plan.

As part of the U.S.-backed "road map" to Palestinian statehood, the Palestinians have to rein in militants who have killed hundreds of Israelis in shootings and bombings during 32 months of fighting.

The Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, has been trying to negotiate with the militias rather than use force, saying he wants to avoid civil war. It was not clear whether a refusal by Hamas to negotiate a truce would set the stage for a crackdown by Palestinian security forces.

Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas leader and hardliner, told reporters on Friday that efforts to reach a truce were off. He said Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, made too many concessions in his speech at a Mideast summit earlier this week in Jordan. At the gathering, sponsored by President Bush and attended by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Abbas called for an end to the "armed intefadeh," or uprising.

"I believe that Abu Mazen himself ... closed the door in front of Hamas because he committed himself in front of Bush and Sharon (to) what Palestinians refused," Rantisi told The Associated Press. "So, (there is) no way now ... to open dialogue with Abu Mazen, because he will come to a dialogue with cuffed hands."

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Ziad Abu Amr, Abbas' liaison to Hamas, said he had not received official word from the group that talks were finished, but blamed Israel's killing of two Hamas militants overnight in the West Bank town of Tulkarem for hampering the effort.

"Israel's continuation of the policy of assassinations and incursion is an obstacle in the way of efforts of dialogue with the Palestinian parties and the possibility of reaching a cease-fire with them," Abu Amr said.

He said the Palestinian leadership was still committed to dialogue with Hamas.

There have been conflicting statements from Hamas about cease-fire efforts, and Rantisi is known as a hardliner in the group. Despite his statements, contacts between the Palestinian leadership and Hamas leaders abroad were continuing, Abu Amr said.

Meanwhile, efforts to clear the streets of gunmen from a militia linked to Abbas' own Fatah movement continued. Mohammed Dahlan, the Palestinian security chief, is offering to buy illegal weapons carried by the militiamen, according to several Palestinian officials and militia members, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Dahlan has received money from the United States and Europe for buying the weapons, the officials said.

There were conflicting reports on the amount of money promised. A leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a militia linked to Fatah, said Dahlan is offering $6,000 for each rifle, while officials gave lower figures. Dahlan also offered a signup bonus of at least $6,000 to Al Aqsa members who leave the militia and join the security forces, militiamen said.

Al Aqsa did not say whether any members have already accepted the offer.

However, in a leaflet, Al Aqsa said it would only lay down its arms if Israel stopped killing and arresting its leaders and released prisoners. The group also demanded that Israel lift a travel ban on Yasser Arafat, in effect for more than a year, and allow him to leave the West Bank.

The two Hamas activists were killed just before midnight Thursday in the West Bank village of Attil. Troops surrounded a house and ordered those inside to surrender, the army said. When the men refused to come out, troops entered the house and fought with the men, who were hiding in a room. Two of the militants were killed and a third was wounded and arrested.

There was fighting, too, in the Gaza Strip. Along the sandy southern border with Egypt, Israeli forces uncovered two tunnels used by weapons smugglers and fought gunmen who unleashed what the army described as a massive amount of gunfire.

The Palestinians also fired seven anti-tank grenades and lobbed more than 100 hand grenades. There were no serious injuries reported on either side.

The army also reported that four mortars were fired at an Israeli settlement and an army post in Gaza, causing no injuries or damage.

Abbas was to brief Arafat later Friday on the results of Wednesday's summit with Sharon and Bush.

The meeting ended with both sides' endorsement of the road map peace plan and pledges to embark on its first steps. The peace plan aims to end the fighting and to create a Palestinian state by 2005.

2003 Associated Press

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