Yesterday Hamas and Fatah, the mainstream faction of the PLO, jointly issued a leaflet in the Gaza Strip declaring an end to inter-factional conflict and a temporary halt to the killing of Palestinians suspected of colllaborating with Israel.
In discussions held between Fatah and Hamas in the West Bank, the latter agreed recently to co-operate with the new Palestinian authority and not to carry out attacks against Israelis in areas under Palestinian control.
Local PLO leaders see the agreements as significant, saying that Hamas's desire to co- operate will prevent violence in the new Palestinian entity, giving peace a real chance of success. 'In areas under our control we can ask Hamas to stop attacks against Israelis in order not to stop the autonomy accord,' said Bashir Bargoutti, a Fatah leader in the West Bank. 'Outside our areas we have no control.'
The Israeli government has been angered by the moves, fearing that Hamas is only seeking to boost its political credibility to divert atttention from its campaign of violence against Israel. Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, said this week there would be 'no agreement' on the Gaza-Jericho accords if a PLO-Hamas deal came about.
While always ready to show a pragmatic face, Hamas has always insisted that violence is a legitimate means to further its ultimate end - the establishment of an Islamic state over the whole of Palestine, including Israel. The agreements do not contain any guarantee to halt violent attacks against Israeli targets in Israel proper, or in other parts of the occupied territories that are not under Palestinian control.
The moves inside the occupied territories should be seen as part of a wider drive by Hamas to promote its pragmatic front. If the Gaza-Jericho agreement is signed, Hamas knows that it could be left out of the reckoning should public support once again swing behind the peace wagon.
TUNIS - The PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, returned to Tunis yesterday from a trip to Russia and Romania and was expected to chair a leadership meeting on talks with Israel, according to Palestinian sources, Reuter reports.
Before leaving Bucharest, where he had a series of meetings with the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, Mr Arafat said a final agreement on implementing Palestinian self-rule was in sight.