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Hamas founder sets Israel truce terms

Yassin

Israel calls offer 'a positive change'

October 7, 1997
Web posted at: 10:43 a.m. EDT (1443 GMT)
In this story:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (CNN) -- Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of the Islamic fundamentalist movement Hamas, said Tuesday he would forge a truce with Israel that would end suicide bombings if Israel withdrew completely from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and removed all of its Jewish settlements.

"If Israel withdraws completely from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and it removes all of its settlements, I will make a truce with it. You have my word for it," he said.

David Bar-Illan, a senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the peace overture was "a positive change" despite the "unacceptable conditions."

In the past, militants within Hamas have never indicated a willingness to negotiate. Instead, they have spoken of a "holy war" to establish an Islamic state in all of what is now Israel.

"We would like to hope that it means that (Yassin) will preach peace rather than violence," Bar-Illan said. "There is no question he has a following and charisma."

But Bar-Illan said Israel would not pursue a cease-fire agreement unless Hamas as a group formally abandons its policy of attacking Israelis and destroying the Jewish state.

Bar-Illan speaks
icon 128K/10 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Israel ignored an earlier Hamas peace proposal just before Netanyahu approved an assassination attempt of a senior Hamas official in Jordan last month.

Offer to end suicide bombings

Speaking at his home in the Sabra district of Gaza City, Yassin also said he had told Israeli officials that Hamas militants would stop targeting civilians if Israel would do the same.

"If it stops its attacks on civilians, then we are not prepared to touch civilians," the 61-year-old Palestinian cleric told reporters a day after his triumphant homecoming.

"In our religion it is forbidden to kill a child, a woman or an elderly man but when you kill my wife, my daughter, my son, I have the right to defend myself. We are obliged to do so in front of the Israeli deeds," he said.

Asked what sort of cease-fire Yassin had in mind, senior Hamas figure Abdel-Aziz Rantisi said a two- or three-year truce was possible if Palestinian demands were met, including Israeli troop withdrawals and release of Palestinian prisoners.

"After the end of this limited period, Hamas can resist and fight. This truce for a limited period is not a comprehensive peace," Rantisi said.

Hamas suicide bombers have killed 24 Israelis in three suicide attacks this year. Scores of Israelis have been killed by Hamas militants since Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed their historic framework peace deal on September 13, 1993. Hamas opposes the deal as a sellout of the Palestinian cause.

Yassin, who had served eight years of a life sentence for ordering killings of Israelis and Palestinian collaborators during the Palestinian uprising, returned to the Gaza Strip on Monday as part of a swap worked out following last month's botched Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan on Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal.

Israel also freed 20 other Palestinian and Jordanian prisoners. In return, two agents from the Mossad -- Israel's secret service -- who were captured after the failed murder plot were freed and returned to Israel.

In his first public comments on the operation Monday, Netanyahu indirectly accepted responsibility but insisted Israel had no choice but to "fight terrorism."

Netanyahu said his Cabinet would set up a special three-man committee, including former Mossad chief Nahum Admoni, to investigate the assassination attempt.

Peace talks resume

Under the auspices of U.S. mediator Dennis Ross, Israel and the Palestinians resumed negotiations Monday after a seven-month hiatus during which the peace process was on the brink of total breakdown.

Ross held a three-way meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy and Mahmoud Abbas, deputy to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

On Tuesday, lower-level committees were to begin meetings focusing on resolving disagreements over unimplemented parts of past Israel-Palestinian accords, such as a seaport and airport in Gaza and road links between Gaza and the West Bank.

Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers and Reuters contributed to this report.

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