Hamas set to down guns and give peace a chance: Sarah Helm sees the movement looking for a new role as opposition for Arafat in the self-rule areas

Sarah Helm
Tuesday 03 May 1994 23:02

AS Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation prepare to sign their Gaza-Jericho deal today, Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, has given new signs that it is ready to give peace a chance, and curtail violent opposition.

If the political leadership of Hamas means what it says, and can control the movement's military wing, this could spell the end to revenge attacks for the Hebron mosque massacre.

Hamas says it wants to be viewed as a credible opposition. The movement is seeking alliances with moderate Palestinian opposition groups inside the occupied territories, which could lead to the creation of an important new power block in opposition to Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman.

Speaking in Amman yesterday, Ibrahim Ghosheh, a spokesman for Hamas, said they no longer wanted to kill 'innocent Israelis'. 'Hadera and Afula were exceptional,' he said, referring to the Hamas bombings in Israel proper, which left 13 Israelis dead.

Mr Ghosheh said attacks should focus on 'the forces of occupation', among which he included Jewish settlers. But he also said Hamas's military wing, the Izzidin al Qassem brigades, may halt all military operations in the Gaza Strip against Israeli soldiers and settlers. A truce was offered to Israel recently by Musa abu Marzouq, a Hamas leader in Damascus.

There is little doubt that the lull in Hamas's violence in the past week, and the hints of moderation, have been a factor in the rush this week to sign the Gaza-Jericho deal. Realising implementation of the Oslo accords cannot be blocked by violence, Hamas is learning to live with reality. Instead of talking of Jews as 'foreigners in Palestine', Hamas leaders acknowledge the de facto existence of the state within its pre-1967 borders.

On one significant issue, Hamas's position is unclear: will it take part in elections for the self-rule council? Mr Ghosheh says it will not take part, while other leaders have suggested it may. Hamas is keeping its options open.

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