Hamas leader: Negotiations 'not taboo'

Mahmoud Zahar says Hamas would talk to Israel through a third party.

hamas poster 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
hamas poster 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
A top Hamas leader on Monday raised the possibility of holding negotiations with Israel through a third party. "Negotiation is not a taboo," said Mahmoud Zahar, speaking two days before Palestinian legislative elections. Zahar, a prominent Hamas leader in Gaza, is a top candidate for the group in Wednesday's vote. He said Hamas would be willing to talk to Israel through a third party.
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The IDF, meanwhile, said it would refrain from operations against Palestinian gunmen through Wednesday's elections, except to stop those who pose immediate threats. On the final day of campaigning before the election, Palestinians plastered posters on walls and electrical poles, strung up banners and cruised the streets with a loudspeaker trying to drum up last-minute support for candidates. Some recent polls showed Hamas gaining ground against Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's ruling Fatah Party in their first legislative run, but other public opinion surveys gave Fatah 40 percent of the vote, with Hamas trailing with 29%. As the deadline approached, the campaign became more emotional. In a debate on the Lebanese TV station LBC, Zahar told former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan, a top candidate for Fatah, that security forces broke several of his ribs during a violent interrogation in a Palestinian lockup several years ago. A Fatah radio station hosted the son of a policeman killed in a shootout with Hamas gunmen last year. Across the West Bank and Gaza, Monday marked the final day of early voting for 58,000 members of the security forces. They were asked to cast ballots early, in order to be free to secure polling stations during Wednesday's election. Hisham Assam, 39, a major, said he's supporting Fatah because backing Hamas would be too much of a gamble. Fatah has been the torchbearer of the Palestinian cause for 40 years, but has been slipping in the polls, with voters complaining of official corruption and mismanagement. "With Fatah, at least we know what we are getting," said Assam. "With Hamas, we are heading into the unknown, because they don't have any programs for us." "They are just giving us slogans, while killing our colleagues," he said, referring to clashes between police and Hamas in Gaza City several months ago in which gunmen killed a deputy police chief, Ali Makawi. A Fatah-affiliated radio station broadcast Makawi's relatives making impassioned appeals to support the ruling party. "Don't forget that Hamas is colored by my father's blood," Mawaki's son, Hassan, told listeners. For all that, Huzeifa Abu Fadel, 22, a Hamas campaign worker, said the group expects backing from police, who more commonly clash with Hamas gunmen than support them. "In the end, we are looking out for what's best for our people, for our country, and our brothers in the security forces," he said. "We will see the green in the legislative council," he said, referring to Hamas' signature color. Pollsters have predicted that turnout will top 85 percent, with voters energized by having a first real alternative to Fatah. Hamas, which has carried out dozens of deadly suicide bombings against Israel in recent years, has played successfully on its image as incorruptible and as a provider of health, education and welfare services. It has also argued that its attacks on Israelis, and not diplomacy, caused Israel to withdraw from Gaza over the summer. Fatah has been unable to take control of lawless West Bank and Gaza streets. The participation of Hamas in the election has created friction with Israel and the US, but Abbas has said he hopes the group would tame its positions once it formally joins the political system. Hamas has not yet said whether it would join the government or hunker down in the opposition, where it would be under less pressure to abandon its anti-Israel ideology. The US advocates the spread of democratic elections in the Mideast, so it did not pressure Abbas to block Hamas from participating in the race. But because it considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization, "if members of Hamas become members of a Palestinian government, we will not deal with those individuals," US Embassy spokesman Stewart Tuttle said. Asked what the US would do if Hamas were to take over the Palestinian Authority, Tuttle replied, "We will not deal with members of Hamas, whether they are part of the Palestinian government or not." Although there is a lot at stake in this historic vote, the campaign has gone relatively smoothly. "Violence was very limited and local, and no one was killed," said Amar Dweik, head of the central election commission. "We have indications that the election will go smoothly." Lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi, running for re-election on the Third Way list, reported minor incidents of smear campaigns and tearing down posters, "but nothing major that would taint the election." Fatah, holding fast to its most potent symbols, has scheduled its closing rally Monday night at the Gaza City home of the iconic Palestinian leader, the late Yasser Arafat. On Sunday, the party's top candidate, Marwan Barghouti, was interviewed from the Israeli prison where he is serving five consecutive life sentences in connection with attacks that killed four Israelis and a Greek monk.