Palestinians turn against suicide bombers

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The Independent Online

The Palestinian people's support for suicide bombings has plummeted since Mahmoud Abbas was elected President in January, committed himself to a ceasefire and resumed political dialogue with Israel, a poll shows.

The Palestinian people's support for suicide bombings has plummeted since Mahmoud Abbas was elected President in January, committed himself to a ceasefire and resumed political dialogue with Israel, a poll shows.

The respected Palestinian Centre for Policy Survey and Research found 67 per cent of the voters opposed last month's Islamic Jihad attack on a Tel Aviv disco, which killed five Israelis. Only 29 per cent supported it, compared to 77 per cent who supported a double bus bombing that killed 16 in Beersheba last August. The findings may affect crucial discussions Mr Abbas is to hold in Cairo with radical groups. He will try to persuade them to support a year-long ceasefire, drafted by Egypt.

But Palestinians remain less ecstatic about arrests and other measures by the Palestinian security services to punish the perpetrators of attacks. Nearly 60 per cent opposed such steps, the survey found.

Khalil Shikaki, the West Bank political scientist who directed the poll, said yesterday: "In the post-Arafat era, people are sending a message to the Palestinian factions that they don't want a return to violence at this point, but they are also not enthusiastic about a crackdown. They are not willing to give up the military option, but they want to freeze the military option.

"People saw the ceasefire was sticking and the Israelis, despite some violations, were respecting it as well. Therefore the people feel confident."

Dr Shikaki said they were ready to try diplomacy. "They want to give Mahmoud Abbas a chance and they expect him to deliver. They are not willing to grant permission to the factions to torpedo his efforts." Three-quarters of those polled were satisfied with his performance in the peace process.

Less encouragingly, the pollsters also logged an erosion of support for his mainstream al Fatah party and a slight gain for the radical Islamic Hamas. Support for al Fatah was down to 36 per cent from 40 per cent last December, and the Hamas vote went up from 18 per cent to 25 over the same period.

Hamas fared well in the Gaza Strip (32 per cent to al Fatah's 35), winning several local councils in elections this year. The survey suggested people expected a close finish in the next round of local government elections in May, but a victory for al Fatah in legislative council elections two months later. Hamas, which boycotted the last parliamentary elections in 1996, announced last weekend that it would run in July, but would not serve in government.

Hamas had earned Palestinian respect for its uncompromising violence against Israel, but Dr Shikaki said it was winning support because it was acting as a responsible and honest player in Palestinian politics. "The people also feel the integrity and incorruptibility of Hamas is to be rewarded," he said. "Al Fatah's reputation is of corruption and mismanagement. The people are saying if Fatah does not get its act together and behave differently, it stands to lose."

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