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Hamas Says Truce Doomed Unless Prisoners Are Freed (REUTERS) By Nidal al-Mughrabi GAZA 07/09/03 01:08 PM ET) Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=3062463
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GAZA (Reuters) - The main Palestinian militant group Hamas said on Wednesday a cease-fire declared under intense international pressure to further a "road map" to peace would unravel if Israel did not free thousands of prisoners.
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The U.S.-engineered peace plan is coming under threat from discontent within the mainstream Palestinian movement Fatah over Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas´s perceived failure to win Israeli gestures reciprocating for the truce.
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But Abbas denied on Wednesday reports that he was considering resigning.
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The truce declared by major Palestinian factions on June 29 has been rattled by violence, including Israel´s killing of a Palestinian man in West Bank raid on Wednesday and a Palestinian suicide bombing that killed an Israeli on Monday.
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Monday´s bombing was the first such attack since the truce was called, and Hamas´s founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, said that while his group remained committed to the pact, militants could not abide by it unless jailed comrades were freed.
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"Our patience has its limits. Israeli practices (including) the issue of the prisoners, are a red line that can never be bypassed in any way or form," Yassin said after talks with Egyptian security officials trying to shore up the truce.
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Israel has said it would free hundreds of Palestinians but set tough conditions which included ruling out the release of militants allegedly involved in a campaign of suicide bombings and ambush attacks.
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That would effectively exclude most of up to 8,000 arrested since an uprising for independence began in September 2000.
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The Israeli government dismissed conditions set by militant groups, saying it would deal only with Abbas´s Palestinian Authority, but it has freed some prisoners and withdrawn some forces in Gaza and the West Bank.
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Some local militant cells have refused to abide by the truce proclamation, citing the prisoner issue among others, and a suicide bomber dispatched by a cell of Islamic Jihad based in the West Bank town of Jenin killed an Israeli woman on Monday.
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Israeli military sources said the Palestinian man was shot dead near Jenin after he fired on soldiers carrying out a raid that captured his militant brother. Palestinian witnesses said he was killed without provocation while looking out a window.
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A delegation of senior security and intelligence from Egypt, which helped broker the truce, planned a series of meetings with Islamist and Fatah faction leaders in Gaza into the evening.
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Hard-liners in Fatah´s Central Committee have confronted the moderate Abbas over his failure to persuade Israel to free all prisoners, a step that would help him reduce the popular appeal of militants loath to abandon attacks on Israel.
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Abbas told reporters on Wednesday he was not contemplating quitting despite accounts by Fatah officials to the contrary, and called on Israel to free all detainees "as soon as possible."
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Israel should also withdraw forces from more Palestinian cities and cease settlement-building on occupied land, he added.
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In a move aimed at strengthening Abbas´s hand, the State Department has approved giving $20 million in aid directly to his Palestinian Authority, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.
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Congressional and administration sources told Reuters the money would be used to improve basic services in Palestinian areas being vacated by Israeli forces.
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The official, who asked not to be named, said the administration of President Bush had decided to release the money in part because it believed Abbas and his finance minister Salam Fayyad had the financial controls in place to ensure it is spent properly. (© Reuters 2003 07/09/03)
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