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Israeli Assassination Policy Threatens Truce

Encouraged by Bush Statements, Israeli Assassination Policy Threatens Imminent Truce

Hopes of a breakthrough in efforts to start implementing the US-sponsored “roadmap” plan have been dispelled by the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s insistence to continue its extra-judicial assassination policy, encouraged by the US President Bush’s announcement Wednesday that declaring a Hudna (truce) by Palestinians is not enough.

In Washington, US President George W. Bush reacted skeptically to reports on a truce among Palestinian factions, saying “I’ll believe it when I see it,” adding that truce was not enough and insisted on the “dismantling” of both the political and military wings of the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas.

Speaking at a press conference with European leaders after the annual US-EU summit, he insisted that “the true test” for Middle East peace would be whether Hamas and the like groups were dismantled.

He urged European leaders to take “swift and decisive action” against these groups by cutting off their sources of funding and support.

“Progress toward this goal will only be possible if all sides do all in their power to defeat the determined enemies of peace, such as Hamas and other terrorist groups,” he said.

Shortly before Bush made his statements, an Israeli US-made Apache helicopter gunship fired two missiles, in a fresh extra-judicial assassination attempt, at a taxi east of the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis, killing a 17-year-old girl passenger and the 33-year-old man driver, critically injuring a second passenger, and moderately to seriously wounding at least 14 others.

President Yasser Arafat’s media adviser Nabil Abu Rudeineh slammed Israel for the latest killing, accusing Israeli PM Sharon of wanting “to ruin any chance to implement the roadmap,” a US-backed peace blueprint to restore peace and create a Palestinian state by 2005.

“We hold Israel entirely responsible. Sharon aims to destroy Palestinian efforts to bring about quiet and a truce and to ruin any chance to implement the roadmap,” Abu Rudeineh said.

Palestinian sources meanwhile announced Wednesday that a draft agreement was reached among Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa Brigades, the military wing of Fatah, calling for a three-month truce in Israel and the occupied territory.

The Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam on Wednesday quoted the sources as saying that the draft was achieved following intensive contacts in the past few weeks among the leaders of the three groups Khaled Misha’al, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah and Marwan Al-Barghouthi, the last a Palestinian MP detained by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF).

Al-Ayyam added that a Hamas delegation was expected in Cairo Thursday to announce the agreement after presenting the final draft to Egyptian officials.

A Palestinian source, a Fatah official, on Wednesday told AFP that Hamas and Islamic Jihad had agreed not to obstruct the political process, despite their opposition to the international community’s “roadmap” peace initiative.

The source also said that the three factions held meetings in the Syrian capital Damascus, where they had agreed to condition the truce on the release of Palestinian detainees.

“Hamas and Jihad understand the regional and international pressure currently being exerted on the Palestinian people, and agree it would be a relief for the people if a truce were declared,” the Fatah official said.

“Hamas admits that its infrastructure and funding are also coming under a great deal of pressure, and is equally in need of a truce,” he added.

However, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad warned the Israeli fresh assassination attempt could jeopardize the announcement of a ceasefire, and accused Israel of deliberately trying to sabotage truce efforts.

A senior official of Hamas said Israel’s latest assassination attempt Wednesday aimed to put “real obstacles to our inter-Palestinian dialogue and efforts toward a truce.”

“This cowardly assassination confirms that the enemy does not want stability or quiet and hence puts real obstacles (in front of) our continuing inter-Palestinian dialogue and efforts towards a truce,” Ismail Haniya said.

Such a move would “influence Hamas’ decision concerning a truce,” he added.

Islamic Jihad voiced a similar view.

“This new Israeli crime will negatively impact the decision of the Islamic Jihad movement and that of other (Palestinian) factions regarding a truce,” senior Jihad official Mohammed al-Hindi said.

The announcement of a truce would coincide with a visit by US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is due in the region on Saturday to give the latest US show of support for the “roadmap.”

The US-backed blueprint calls for an end to the violence and the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005, but has had little impact on the ground two months after its publication.


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