Hamas: We would honor a West Bank truce

But Islamists warn they will retaliate if targeted; Abbas says he's ready to establish unity government.

IDF troops volleyball  (photo credit: AP)
IDF troops volleyball
(photo credit: AP)
Although the cease-fire agreement between Hamas and Israel does not include the West Bank at this stage, Hamas officials said Thursday they have instructed their supporters there to act as if it does. "Hamas will abide by the tahadiyeh [period of calm] in the West Bank as long as Israel refrains from targeting our members there," said a top Hamas official in Gaza City. He pointed out that in recent months Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's security forces had arrested more Hamas members in the West Bank than the IDF. Asked if Hamas would violate the cease-fire agreement if Israel targeted its members in the West Bank, the official said his movement "maintains the right to respond to any Israeli breach." Under the terms of the Egyptian-brokered agreement, Hamas officials said, the cease-fire will be formally extended to the West Bank in four to six months. Abbas, on a visit to Yemen on Thursday, was quoted as saying he welcomed the Gaza cease-fire and was now open to the formation of a national unity government with Hamas. Earlier this week, Fatah officials announced that Abbas would soon visit Gaza for the first time since Hamas's violent takeover of the territory in June 2007, and that a reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas's Fatah faction was under way. Two weeks ago, Abbas formed a committee of senior officials to prepare for "national dialogue" with Hamas - spurred by a plan presented a few months ago by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Hamas has never had a strong armed presence in the West Bank, although it does enjoy popular support there. The movement's armed wing, Izaddin Kassam, had a few cells that used to operate mostly in Hebron, Bethlehem, Jenin and Tulkarm. But over the past two years, Hamas officials and activists in the West Bank have been targeted by both the Fatah-dominated PA security forces and Israel. The clampdown began almost immediately after the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Schalit in June 2006. Dozens of Hamas cabinet ministers, legislators and activists have since been arrested by Israel and by Abbas's forces. The crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank escalated after the movement seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Many Hamas institutions have also been closed by Abbas's forces. Hamas claims that almost every day Abbas's security forces arrest a number of its followers in the West Bank. Members of Islamic Jihad, which has long been active in Bethlehem and Jenin, have also been targeted by both the IDF and Fatah-controlled security forces, especially in the past two years. Islamic Jihad officials also warned Thursday that they would not remain idle if Israel continued to target their members in the West Bank. Under pressure from the Egyptians and Hamas, Islamic Jihad has agreed to honor the agreement in the Gaza Strip despite its reservations. Islamic Jihad official Nafez Azzam said their main reservations were related to the fact that the West Bank was not included in the deal. He added that Islamic Jihad was also unhappy with the uncertainty over the reopening of the Rafah crossing between Sinai and Gaza. Ziad Nakhaleh, the No. 2 in Islamic Jihad, warned that his group would respond to any Israeli violation of the agreement. "We will respond even if the violation takes place in the West Bank," he said.