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Analysis: Hamas gives peace a chance (UPI )VIA-WASHINGTON TIMES) By Saud Abu Ramadan GAZA 07/10/03) Source: http://washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20030710-092545-6727r.htm
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(This is the sixth in a series of seven reports in which United Press International looks at the "road map" to peace in the Middle East.)
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GAZA, July 10 (UPI) -- The fragile cease-fire is holding a week after Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas persuaded the militant group Hamas to agree to a three-month calm in order to allow him to negotiate with the Israelis on the "road map" to peace.
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The Islamic Resistance Group, or Hamas, is opposed to the "road map," a plan put forward by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, because it says the Palestinians are called upon to make too many concessions for too little in return.
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The "road map" calls for a series of mutual confidence-building measures to be undertaken by Israel and the Palestinians, culminating in an independent Palestine by 2005 and peace and security for Israel.
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As soon as U.S. President George W. Bush presented the "road map" to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, leaders of Hamas and the militant Islamic Jihad immediately rejected the plan.
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"As long as there is occupation of Palestinian territories, Hamas will never stop resistance against Israel," said Abdel Aziz Ranteesi, the senior Hamas leader in Gaza who escaped an Israeli assassination attempt soon after the plan was presented.
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The armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad carried out attacks against Israel to demonstrate their objection of the "road map."
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Despite its bluster, however, the group has, so far, abided by the 3- month hudna, or calm, to give peace another chance.
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Hamas leaders have now begun to talk about the terms of the hudna, saying Israel should release all of the 6,000 Palestinian prisoners it holds. They also want an end to incursions into the Palestinian territories, targeted killings, the destruction of homes and an end to the siege of the occupied territories.
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Analysts in Gaza are split on why Hamas backs the hudna.
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According to one version, after the end of the war on Iraq, Syria thought it might be next in the U.S.´s crosshair. Damascus, which hosts several Palestinian militant groups, ordered Hamas´ offices there shut. The militant group´s Syrian bureau was used to order suicide attacks against Israel. Finding its offices in Syria closed, and its funding from Europe and North America drying up because of the war on terrorism, Hamas had little choice but to accept the hudna.
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The other school of thought says after air and ground strikes by Israel against top Hamas leaders and the Jewish state´s threat to go after the group´s infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, the movement needed time to rebuild and so accepted the hudna.
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The group has, however, denied Israeli media reports that accuse it of using the period to rebuild its political and military wings, plan additional attacks and make more al-Qassam medium-range rockets. Ranteesi says this would be a violation of the hudna.
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Others say Hamas faced three options.
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First: accept the truce, even if it´s temporary. Second: continue attacks against Israel, but confront the Palestinian Authority´s security forces, which might lead to an all-out Palestinian civil war. And third: continue attacks against Israel and wait for another Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip.
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They say the natural choice would be the first one, but while opposing the "road map."
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Many Palestinians believe the hudna will collapse before its three- month deadline.
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"I´m sure that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would violate the hudna," Hamas´ Ranteesi told United Press International. "He doesn´t want to release 6,000 prisoners from Israeli jails; he wants to keep settlements; he doesn´t want to withdraw from the territories he occupied; and he wants only to extend the period of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without giving them anything beneficial."
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All the issues are controversial but the one that may spark off violence the earliest is the fate of the prisoners. Israel says it will free hundreds of Palestinians but that does not include those accused of planning suicide attacks or ambushes on Israeli targets. That would exclude most of the 6,000 arrested since the intifada began in September 2000.
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Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin has gone as far as to say his group cannot remain bound to the hudna unless its jailed members were freed.
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Hussein Hijazi, a Palestinian analyst who writes for the Ramallah- based al-Ayyam daily, says the group´s acceptance of the hudna stems from its realization that it is now a major player in the Middle East peace process. The stand shows it is becoming more pragmatic, he says.
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"Hamas is a small and a young movement and it´s leaders have never dreamt to be one day as important as it is nowadays, where the whole world is waiting for one word from them to say they accept a truce," he said.
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Hamas leaders believe the hudna won´t last because the Israelis and Sharon won´t commit themselves to its terms. If this happens, the movement would probably resume attacks against Israel, which would retaliate, leaving the Palestinian Authority´s security forces helpless. (copyright © 2003 News World Communications, Inc. 07/10/03)
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