Israel drops bid for Hamas election ban
Updated: 2005-10-24 09:20
Israel has dropped its campaign to ban the violent Islamic Hamas from
Palestinian parliamentary elections, a senior official said Sunday,
acknowledging defeat after President Bush pointedly skipped repeating the demand
in a public appearance with the Palestinian leader last week.
In another election-related development, the Palestinian prime minister said
a program is under way to disarm a militant group and bring its gunmen into the
security services — a possible pattern for dealing with Hamas as it turns
political after nearly two decades of deadly attacks against Israelis.
Israel never made specific threats against the Palestinians in connection
with Hamas candidates in the January election, but hinted it would refuse to
remove roadblocks and ease other travel restrictions vital to carrying out a
free elections campaign.
Israel says it is still strongly opposed to Hamas participation because its
charter calls for destruction of the Jewish state, but it will take no steps to
stop it. "Are we going to go to war on this issue or interfere on this issue?
No," the senior official said.
Also, Israel said if Hamas took part in the Palestinian government, there
would be no hope for peace talks. That threat still hangs in the air.
"This organization will not be a legitimate partner for peace," another
official said. "It's Hamas or us."
During the last five years, Hamas has carried out dozens of suicide bombing
attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis. The officials spoke on condition
of anonymity because they were not authorized to make official policy
The turning point came Thursday, when
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas met with Bush at the White House. While warning
Abbas that violent Palestinian groups could undermine the democratic Palestinian
state-in-the-making, Bush did not mention Hamas by name nor call for its
exclusion from the election — a sign that despite Israel's strong feelings, the
U.S. was not going to press the point.
Palestinian mourners carry the body of
Abdullah Tamimi, 18, through the streets of the West Bank village of Deir
Nizam, near Ramallah, during his funeral procession Sunday, Oct. 23,
In three rounds of local elections earlier this year, Hamas did well,
forecasting significant inroads into the power of Abbas' Fatah Party when
Palestinians vote for a parliament in January.
This is the first time Hamas is running candidates for parliament. Hamas
skipped the only other election, a decade ago, complaining that the parliament
itself is part of an interim peace accord with Israel, a pact Hamas rejects on
Rebuffing Israeli demands to confront Hamas and disarm its cadres, Abbas
prefers to achieve calm by persuasion and inclusion in political life. The
effort has been partially successful at best, as violent groups continue
sporadic attacks against Israelis, despite a cease-fire declared in February.
When Abbas was in Washington, Palestinian gunmen killed three Israelis in a
drive-by shooting in the West Bank, and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, linked to
Abbas' Fatah, claimed responsibility.
On Sunday evening, Israeli troops shot dead a wanted Palestinian gunman in a
shootout in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, the military said, adding that a
soldier was lightly wounded during the exchange of fire. Relatives of the dead
man said he was an Al Aqsa activist.
Earlier Sunday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said a project is
underway to train Al Aqsa gunmen as police officers and incorporate them into
security forces — a way of neutralizing them.
"We have agreed today to establish five new camps for training and hosting
'stragglers'" from Al Aqsa who have not turned in their weapons, Qureia said.
"We have a plan and we have started implementing it."
Previous efforts to disarm Al Aqsa have failed. An offer by the Palestinian
government to buy weapons from militants fizzled, and earlier programs to give
gunmen posts in security services have not yielded significant results.
Since Al Aqsa is close to Fatah, failure to bring its gunmen into the
official fold would bode ill for similar efforts toward Hamas, the main Fatah
Also Sunday, the main border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt
reopened Sunday for 48 hours for humanitarian reasons.
Israel closed the Rafah terminal just before withdrawing from Gaza last
month, citing security considerations. Thousands crossed the border in both
directions during several days of chaos following the pullout, but the area has
been mostly sealed since order was restored.
Palestinian officials said they expected 6,000 Palestinians to return to Gaza
by Tuesday morning.