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Palestinian PM Meets with Hamas - 2003-05-22

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has met with officials of the militant Islamic group Hamas for the first time since taking up his new position. News of the meeting came amid calls by Israel for Mr. Abbas to crack down on Palestinian militants, following a new wave of suicide bombings.

A spokesman for Hamas said Mr. Abbas himself initiated the meeting with the organization in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian officials say he is seeking an agreement on a one-year cease-fire on attacks against Israeli targets.

Mr. Abbas believes that such a truce might provide an opportunity for progress on negotiations with Israel on a new Middle East peace plan.

The road map to peace plan calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

But Hamas, which the United States has labeled a terrorist organization, opposes any peace settlement with Israel. It launched four of the five suicide bombings against Israelis in the past week.

The Israeli Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom says it is time for Mr. Abbas to prove that he can stop such attacks. If not, Mr. Shalom says he will risk being judged like the Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat, who Israel considers an obstacle to peace.

"I think that Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas, has to take immediate actions against terrorism," he said. "He has to stop the violence and stop the incitement, otherwise Arafat and Abu Mazen will be [seen as] more of the same."

But it appears unlikely that Mr. Abbas will be forced into any immediate showdown with Hamas.

He is known to favor dialogue rather than confrontation.

The head of the Palestinian Authority's Negotiations Affairs Department, Michael Tarazi, says the process of discouraging more Palestinian violence also needs Israel's active support.

He told VOA that Israel must take steps to ease the suffering of Palestinians in order for Mr. Abbas to win public support against the militant groups.

"The Palestinian prime minister's ability to crack down and to address Israel's security needs are also going to be linked to how well Israel will respond to addressing Palestinian freedom concerns," he said. "If the Palestinians crack down and in effect try to provide Israel with security, they will simply be viewed as the security subcontractor and that won't last long and that will backfire on all parties."

Meanwhile, clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in a village near the West Bank city of Jenin have resulted in the death of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy.

Overnight Wednesday in Hebron, also in the West Bank, Israeli forces arrested seven suspected Palestinian militants, including three members of Hamas.