Hamas May Be Open to Truce With Israel

By LAURIE COPANS
The Associated Press
Sunday, June 3, 2007; 1:24 AM

JERUSALEM -- Hamas may be willing to agree to a cease-fire with Israel for one year, a senior official of the militant group said in an interview with an Egyptian newspaper. Hamas said it had not fired any rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip for days.

But Israel has rejected calls for a cease-fire that would include the West Bank as a ruse allowing militants there to regroup and step up attacks.

The army continued its operations against West Bank militants early Sunday, killing a gunman in the town of Jenin, hours after troops killed an unarmed Palestinian in the nearby town of Nablus, Palestinian officials said.

The army said that in both cases soldiers fired at armed men.

A previous Gaza truce between Hamas and Israel unraveled in mid-May when Hamas intensified rocket launchings into Israel, killing two Israelis. In counterstrikes on the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army has killed more than 60 Palestinians, most of them militants.

Halting the bloodshed will be at the top of the agenda in a meeting next week between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Abbas, leader of the moderate Fatah Party, has been trying to press coalition partner Hamas to renew the truce.

The militant group says it has not launched any rockets since Wednesday. The Islamic Jihad militant group and others took responsibility for firing at least three rockets at Israel on Saturday. No injuries were reported.

Hamas deputy political leader Moussa Abu Marzouk suggested the group may be interested in ending the violence.

"We may agree to a one-year cease-fire," Abu Marzouk was quoted as saying in an interview with the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram that was published Saturday. "Both parties have to abide by it."

Abu Marzouk, who along with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal lives in exile in Syria, demanded that Israel also agree to a truce with Hamas, saying the only way for success was calm on both sides.

Several senior Hamas leaders, including Abu Marzouk, were in Cairo over the past week for talks with Egyptian officials on ways to calm fighting with Israel.

A member of the Hamas political bureau, Mohammad Nazal, confirmed that Hamas is considering a truce.

"Some private ideas were presented to Hamas (by Egyptian mediators) to reach a truce with Israel, and Hamas is about to undertake the suitable decision," Nazal said by telephone from Damascus.

Hamas wants to get Israel to extend any Gaza cease-fire to the West Bank, where Israeli troops frequently conduct arrest raids against militants. But Israel is skeptical of Hamas' intentions.

"The current cease-fire in Gaza is unfortunately a sham," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. "It would seem that before we talk about expanding the cease-fire, we should first get it right."

In the West Bank town of Jenin early Sunday, Israeli troops shot and killed a commander from a militant group made up of gunmen from Fatah and Islamic Jihad, Palestinian security officials said. The army said troops returned fire after gunmen attacked a patrol.

Hours earlier, troops on an arrest raid in the nearby town of Nablus shot and killed a Palestinian in his shop and seriously injured another Palestinian, witnesses and rescue workers said. The army said soldiers fired at a gunman.

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Associated Press writers Nadia Abou El-Magd in Cairo and Albert Aji in Damascus contributed to this report.


© 2007 The Associated Press