Hamas may not support truce with Israel beyond 2005

Hamas may not support a truce with Israel beyond 2005 if Palestinian elections are postponed, its leaders suggested Wednesday, hours after an Israeli aircraft fired a missile into a field in northern Gaza in response to Palestinian rocket fire on an Israeli border town. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas reached the cease-fire deal with Hamas and other Palestinian factions in February, and in exchange promised them political participation, including holding parliament elections.

The vote is set for Jan. 25 and Abbas has said he would honor the date, but there is growing speculation he would seek a delay because he has few achievements to present to voters following Israel's Gaza pullout in September. Polls suggest Hamas would make a strong showing.

Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader, told the Israeli daily Haaretz in remarks published Wednesday that holding elections was one of the cornerstones of the Egyptian-brokered truce.

Asked if Hamas would walk away from the truce at the end of 2005, Zahar said: "We expect answers from the leaders of this dialogue (Egypt). We gave the cease-fire nine months, and what has been achieved? One big zero."

Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri said representatives of Palestinian factions would head to Cairo in coming weeks for talks on extending the truce. "We are going to evaluate the past nine months and what has been achieved. Unfortunately, we achieved nothing, and none of the obligations were met," al-Masri said.

Zahar said his group entered the truce with the expectation that Israel would release Palestinian prisoners and halt incursions into Palestinian towns. Zahar told Haaretz his group would step up kidnappings of Israelis if prisoners are not released soon. Earlier this month, Hamas kidnapped and killed an Israeli businessman in the West Bank.

"It (Israel) is holding 9,000 prisoners. If they are not released, kidnappings will increase," Zahar added.

Israel has balked at releasing prisoners involved in attacks on Israelis. In recent week, Israeli troops have rounded up hundreds more Palestinians, including members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Among those detained were dozens of prospective Hamas candidates in municipal and parliament elections.

Israel has demanded that Hamas be barred from the parliament vote unless it disarm, but has failed to win strong U.S. support for its decision. Hamas as refused to hand over its weapons, and Abbas has said he would not disarm the militants by force. An election without Hamas participation would be seen as meaningless.

If the vote is held on time, Abbas has little to campaign with. The Gaza-Egypt border, Gaza's main gate to the world, remains closed, and negotiations on new security arrangements there are deadlocked.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was heading to Egypt on Wednesday for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on quickly reopening the border. An international envoy has accused Israel of dragging its feet in the border negotiations.

Also Wednesday, reopened the Karni and Erez crossings between Gaza and Israel after a monthlong closure of the Palestinian territories during a series of Jewish holidays.

Early Wednesday, an Israeli aicraft fired a missile into a field in northern Gaza after Palestinian militants fired homemade rockets toward Israel, including the border town of Sderot. There were no damages or injuries.

The army said the missile hit an area used by militants to launch rockets. Ground forces also aimed artillery fire at the area, the army said.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for some of the rocket fire, saying it was meant to avenge the killing of Luay Saadi, the leader of the group's military wing in the West Bank, by Israeli troops on Monday, reports the AP. I.L.

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