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Militants back Hamas' plan

May 01, 2008|Ashraf Khalil | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Several Palestinian militant groups signed off Wednesday on a Hamas-sponsored temporary truce proposal that the Islamist movement says could bring calm to Israel's southern border with the Gaza Strip and ease the 10-month economic siege of Gaza.

But a cease-fire appears unlikely. Israeli officials say it would merely be a pretext for Hamas and other militant groups to rearm for a new round of hostilities.

The Hamas initiative calls for a temporary cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in Gaza. In return, the border between Gaza and Egypt would be opened, ending the blockade imposed after Hamas took control of the territory in June.

The militant factions, including Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, all announced they supported the initiative, several of the groups' spokesmen said in statements. Islamic Jihad said it "reserved the right to respond to Israeli crimes" in Gaza and the West Bank.

Egyptian officials, who mediated the discussions and have acted as Hamas' liaison with Israel and the West, say they plan to formally present the proposal to Israel. But it's unlikely Israel will give any kind of formal response.

Former President Carter sought to break the U.S.-backed isolation of Hamas in April by meeting directly with the group's leaders in Syria. Carter offered to serve as a go-between with Israel, but he was virtually ignored by the Israeli government. The government is unwilling to grant Hamas the legitimacy that even an indirect agreement would bring, because Hamas' charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

Moreover, conceding to opening Gaza's Rafah crossing with Egypt would expose Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to accusations of rewarding Hamas for its militant tactics.

Although Israeli officials say they haven't yet been formally presented with the proposal, Olmert raised the issue during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday. Members of his government criticized the idea of even indirect negotiations with Hamas-run Gaza.

"This terror state is getting legitimacy from Egypt and maybe even more than that," said Public Security Minister Avi Dichter.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said a formal agreement was "not necessary."

If the Gaza militant groups stopped launching rockets at southern Israeli cities and halted weapons smuggling over the Egyptian border, Israel's army attacks would end automatically, Regev said.

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ashraf.khalil@latimes.com

Special correspondent Rushdi abu Alouf in Gaza City contributed to this report.

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