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Hamas Pledges Cease-Fire; Israel to 'Wait and See' - 2001-12-21


The Islamist group Hamas has announced it will stop its military operations against Israel until further notice. Israel is taking a wait and see attitude.

Another radical group, Islamic Jihad, says it will continue its attacks on Israelis.

The official Hamas declaration says the ban on mortar attacks and suicide bombings inside Israel is in force until further notice. The statement says all members, including the military wing known as Issadine Qassem, must abide by the decision.

The military wing has claimed responsibility for several deadly attacks this month, including two suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa that killed 26 people and an ambush of Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

A senior West Bank Hamas official, Hassan Youssef, told VOA the decision to suspend militant operations has been made for the sake of Palestinian unity. He says Palestinians have welcomed the announcement.

Mr. Youssef said Hamas still reserves the right to defend ourselves in the West Bank and Gaza as long as Israel continues its occupation and closures of Palestinian territories. But Mr. Youssef has said any response would be decided on a case-by-case basis.

The Hamas official says the group had been debating the decision for several weeks and denies it is a result of pressure from the international community or the Palestinian Authority.

Still, the Hamas truce is seen as a victory for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who has been under Israeli and international pressure to crack down on extremist violence.

Mr. Arafat had put the group's spiritual leader under house detention in Gaza and closed several Hamas offices. But Hamas supporters this week clashed with Palestinian police, preventing the arrest of another Hamas leader there.

Israel remains skeptical. Spokesman Raanan Gissen told VOA that suspending Hamas attacks inside Israel is not enough.

"The test has to be on the ground. If and when Hamas stops completely, completely terrorism, violence, incitement to all sorts of violence, then one can say now we can consider it. But as long as they continue to engage in indiscriminate killing of men, women and children and the suicide bombings, the geographical location is of no consequence," he said.

Israel has blamed Palestinian leader Arafat for not curbing the violence and complains his recent efforts were too little too late. Last week Israel took matters into its own hands, moving troops and tanks into the West Bank and Gaza and increasing its air strikes on Palestinian security compounds.

Then, Mr. Arafat, last Sunday, appealed to all Palestinians to stop terrorist attacks against Israelis.

Since then, there has been a lull in the violence that has engulfed the area for the past 15 months. More than 1,000 people have been killed in the bloodshed, most of them Palestinians.