(photo credit: PA [file])
The Hamas truce with Israel has expired, leaving the Palestinian militant group free to resume attacks, a senior Hamas official said in Syria on Wednesday. But he acknowledged that Hamas leaders in Gaza wanted to maintain the cease-fire through this month's elections.
"The truce formally ended with the end of the year according to all the Palestinian factions that had signed it," Moussa Abu Marzouk, the deputy leader of the Hamas political bureau, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. In the face of continuing Israeli attacks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he said, "the truce has become meaningless."
Reiterating previously known positions, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said on Wednesday that Israel would be willing to negotiate with Hamas if the radical group wins the upcoming Palestinian parliamentary elections and lays down its arms.
According to Mofaz, who addressed high school students in Kfar Saba, Hamas would also have to immediately cease terror operations against Israel and remove the clause in its charter calling for the destruction of the State of Israel. Only then, he stressed, would Israel be willing to negotiate with the group, Army Radio reported.
Hamas' top electoral candidate in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, reiterated Tuesday in contradiction to Abu Marzouk that although the truce had expired on Dec. 31, the group would continue to act in the "national interest" until after the Jan. 25 parliamentary elections.
Abu Marzouk would not explain how Hamas could reconcile his position with that of Haniyeh's.
Early last year, Egyptian mediators persuaded the Palestinian militant groups to abide by an unwritten cease-fire with Israel with the aim of enabling the peace process to move forward. The informal cease-fire was due to last until the end of 2005.
Last month, Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas' political leader, and Ramadan Shallah, the leader of Islamic Jihad, said they would not renew the truce after Dec. 31.
The two groups, which are notorious for carrying out suicide bombings in Israel, accused Israel of failing to honor its side of the truce agreement, such as halting its attacks and releasing Palestinian prisoners.
The Egyptian government has invited all the Palestinian groups to come to Cairo for talks on extending the cease-fire through 2006.
Abu Marzouk said the Palestinian factions were likely to go to Cairo for talks after the elections. But, he warned, "there is a consensus that as long as there is (Israeli) occupation, there will be resistance."
The United States and Israel, which consider Hamas and Islamic Jihad as terrorist organizations, have demanded that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas disarm the two groups. But Abbas has said that an attempt to disarm them would provoke civil war.
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