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Israel Considers Truce Offer From Hamas


A Middle East ceasefire could be in the offing during a week of high diplomacy. But Israel has mixed feelings, as we hear from Robert Berger at the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Israel is considering a truce offer from the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

The proposal will be presented by Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who is due to visit Israel on Monday. It calls for an end to Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli border communities, while Israel would halt all military action in Gaza and lift its crippling blockade of the territory.

Israel is sending mixed signals about the truce offer. Spokesman Arieh Mekel says Israel would welcome a halt to the daily rocket attacks.

"The ball is in Hamas' court. I f they were to stop these attacks, Israel will have no reason to react and there will be peace and quiet," said Mekel.

But some Israeli officials, as well as the army, strongly oppose a ceasefire. They say Hamas would use a truce to regroup and rearm for the next round of violence.

"Therefore, it is inevitable with the acquisition of weapons by Hamas, based on its creed of warfare against Israel, based on its training in Iran, based on its jihadic war effort and ethos, that fighting will continue," said Israeli analyst Modechai Nissan.

Hamas is seeking a ceasefire because it has been hit hard by Israeli sanctions and military incursions. But Palestinian activist Hanna Siniora believes a truce serves the interests of both sides.

"What is needed, and I think what Hamas and all Palestinians are saying [is], 'It is time to sit down and talk instead of to fight and have civilians killed," said Siniora.

The moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank believes a truce would create a positive atmosphere for peace talks when President Bush visits the region later this week.