Israeli official dismisses Hamas cease-fire report
Egyptians end talks with Palestinian groups about Israeli truce
GAZA CITY (CNN) -- An Israeli official Monday dismissed as meaningless reports that the Palestinian militant group Hamas was considering a cease-fire with Israel.
"Hamas is not a partner. Hamas is the enemy," the official said. "There is no cease-fire."
Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas traveled Monday to Gaza to urge Palestinian militant groups to end their attacks against Israel, a key step in the U.S.-backed road map for Mideast peace.
Abbas' arrival came hours after an Egyptian delegation ended two days of talks with the militants, with no apparent agreement on the proposed cease-fire.
Sources familiar with the talks said Hamas and Islamic Jihad indicated they may consider calling some kind of a truce, but only if Israel makes concrete guarantees to withdraw from areas of the West Bank and Gaza and to suspend the targeting of senior militants.
The sources expressed optimism a truce could be reached within two days. A Hamas spokesman, Mahmoud Zahar, said earlier in the day his group was considering the possibility of a temporary cease-fire.
But the Israeli official said the test is for Abbas to bring all Palestinian factions together under one security force, the Palestinian Authority, and require them not just to put down their weapons, but to disarm.
On that score, the official said, Abbas has "not yet succeeded." Israel is "looking for a period of calm," the official said, and wants to see whether Abbas can deliver on his promise of maintaining security in the Palestinian territories.
In Gaza, sources said Abbas met first with officials from Fatah, the mainstream faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization. He was to meet later with members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Appearing Monday before the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told lawmakers Israel would "deal very vigorously with any form of terrorism until we prevail."
"There will be no compromise whatsoever when it comes to Israel's security," he said. "It's not possible to achieve a diplomatic arrangement, and certainly not a peace treaty, when terrorism is rampaging."
Sharon said the Palestinian Authority has taken steps to crack down on terrorism, but "a complete war by the Palestinians on the terrorist infrastructure means utterly dismantling it."
Of Hamas, Sharon said, "Voices are increasingly being heard in the world against Hamas and to step up the pressure on this murderous organization."
Soon after he spoke, the Knesset voted to support Sharon's Mideast peace policy.
The road map, which has won support from Israeli and Palestinian leaders, calls for a series of steps on both sides leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath, who met Monday with European Union leaders in Luxembourg, said Palestinian leaders would "like to see Hamas and all other Palestinian factions commit themselves to a full cease-fire leading to a full peace."
But Shaath said Israelis also must "accept their responsibility to end assassinations, killing, destruction and incursions" in the West Bank and Gaza.
According to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, Sharon told a Cabinet meeting Sunday, "If no one fires on us, we will not return fire, except in cases of ticking bombs."
Israel has said that if it receives intelligence about an imminent attack, it reserves the right to target the people or groups behind such action.
Last week, Israel launched missile strikes in Gaza against Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantissi, one of the militant group's most visible figures. The next day, a Hamas suicide bomber blew up a bus in Jerusalem, killing 17 Israelis.
The incidents marked a week of intense violence in which Israeli missile strikes and Palestinian terror attacks killed more than 50 people -- including Israeli military personnel, Hamas militants and civilians on both sides.
A cease-fire agreement could clear the way for the Israeli army to withdraw from Palestinian-controlled areas -- beginning with northern Gaza -- and for the Palestinian Authority to take over security in those areas.
U.S. negotiators -- led by Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf, the Bush administration's point man in the Middle East -- are working behind the scenes to support the cease-fire talks.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice met with Sharon aide Dov Weisglass to discuss the best way to implement the road map.
Rice and Powell emphasized to Weisglass that the Bush administration's commitment to peace had not changed, a senior Bush administration official said.
On Sunday, President Bush ratcheted up pressure on groups such as Hamas, which the United States labels a terrorist organization. He called on the international community to cut off funds and halt the support of such groups.
"There are people who want peace to go forward, and there are people that don't. And for those of us who want peace to go forward, we must combine our efforts to prevent people like Hamas from sabotaging peace," Bush said. "I'm confident we can achieve peace."