'Bombs are not forbidden. But we now have other ways'

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The Independent Online

The dapper and bearded Anwer Zaboun, 37, is widely expected to be elected on Wednesday, so much so that he took a break from the campaign to set out the Hamas position on suicide bombs and its continuing war of resistance against Israel. Hamas, he said, had condemned the London bombings, and pointed to seismic changes in the organisation as it found itself at a crossroads between political engagement and armed resistance to Israel. Steering his old car between potholes, donkeys and careening drivers, Mr Zaboun reminisced about his days at Keele University in Staffordshire, where he earned a masters degree in physics, between stretches in an Israeli jail. Regrettably, he said, he had not been able to return to complete his doctoral thesis because Israel's security concerns meant he could not get a travel permit.

As we entered his small villa, Mr Zaboun noticed that posters for Reform and Change, the proxy party under which Hamas is campaigning, had been shredded. "Perhaps some kids from the neighbourhood tore them. I'm sure they didn't know what they were doing," he said

There are no minders, nor any sign of Hamas's vocation for violent resistance. This is an election that has been fought with virtually no intimidation between the parties. Even with Hamas on the brink of a political breakthrough which could put it ahead of the ruling Fatah, Mr Zaboun had the relaxed air of a university lecturer describing the political earthquake taking place in Palestinian politics.

Hamas, he suggested, was going through a process not unlike that of Sinn Fein and the IRA before the first ceasefire. After boycotting the 1996 election it was taking part now without conceding anything on the key issues of Jerusalem, refugees' right to return and recognition of Israel. But, he said: "As long as there is an occupation there will be a resistance, and if we stop the resistance today, a coming generation will continue it."

He went on to say, however, that resistance to Israel "does not mean we want to destroy it".

Mr Zaboun spoke of maintaining a long-term ceasefire with Israel if it withdrew from the West Bank, stayed out of Gaza, and resolved the issue of Palestinians' right of return. "There are interim solutions," he said, but "Israel has to choose between bloody day and the ceasefire. There is no third choice."

But at Mr Zaboun's home the talk is of moderation and change. There was no Islamic model for the future state of Palestine, not even Iran, which "is extremist and encourages Mota marriage" a contracted marriage for pleasure or prostitution.

And on the matter of suicide bombing he suggested that Hamas was prepared to heed Palestinian opinion and end the bombings. "We cannot say it is forbidden," he said. "But we now have other ways. There is a change. The Palestinian people backs such change. Hamas is recognising it. But Hamas cannot say it is going to recognise Israel and stop the resistance."

The new face of Hamas then kindly offered to driveThe Independent back, before beginning his midday prayers.

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