Israeli official calls on Hamas to renounce violence
By Chris Burns
TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) -- Israel would disregard a second unilateral cease-fire -- or hudna -- by Palestinian militants, but could halt its attacks on Hamas leaders if they renounce violence, a senior Israeli military official said Wednesday.
The official appeared at a news briefing on condition of anonymity.
"There can't be a hudna two. There won't be a hudna two," the official said, using the Arabic word for the militants' seven-week cease-fire that ended last month. "We've been through the hudna experiment and the hudna experiment failed."
The official said the key issue now "is whether it's possible for Hamas to have a military wing. Hamas is under pressure to give it up."
Hamas' military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as well as attacks against the Israeli military.
Amid Israel's so-called "targeted killings" of Hamas officials and efforts to cut off funding to Hamas, the group has entered "a very difficult period," he said.
Asked whether Israel would halt its attacks if Hamas renounced violence and became solely a political entity, the official said, "If Hamas declare they are giving up violence and are becoming a political entity, then there's a reason to discuss this matter."
If, on the other hand, the militants were to launch another attack like the August 19 terrorist bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 21 people, "This time we will not stop at hitting them from the air," the official said.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad both claimed responsibility for that attack.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad are designated terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department.
The threat of Israeli action, the official said, appears to be making Hamas think twice about launching attacks. "They want to survive," he said.
In the two weeks since the bus bombing, Israel has killed 12 Hamas figures and left another brain dead and on life support. The Palestine Red Crescent Society says 23 Palestinian civilians were killed and dozens wounded during the hudna.
Israel didn't formally accept the militants' cease-fire, and its operations in response to the bus bombing resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen Palestinians, though the Israeli government says it was exercising restraint during that period to give the Palestinian Authority a chance to quell the militants.
Israeli officials have said in recent days that they were ready to launch an invasion of Gaza with a brigade of up to 3,000 troops if Hamas continued firing rockets into Israel.
Though he denied it, the official appeared to back off the Israeli defense minister's call Tuesday to expel Palestinian President Yasser Arafat from the Palestinian territories. "Expelling is not the issue; it's getting him out of politics," the official said.
On the struggle for power within the Palestinian Authority, the official said Arafat and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, "can't go on together. Not for long."
Arafat's newly appointed national security adviser, Jibril Rajoub, could be a man to do business with, he indicated.
Rajoub, once head of security on the West Bank, "could have played a positive role" if not for his dispute with Abbas' minister of internal security, Mohammed Dahlan. "The option of redemption for Rajoub is open, not for Arafat," he said.