West Bank: Hamas divided over future approach

West Bank, 27 August (AKI) - After fresh clashes between Palestinian militants and Israeli troops at the weekend, Hamas officials appear to be divided about whether to renew terrorist attacks in the West Bank and Israel.

Political adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, Ahmad Yousef, told Haaretz that assessments by the Israeli security service, Shin Bet, that the group wanted to undermine renewed diplomatic dialogue between Israel and the PA through spectacular terrorist attacks, were inaccurate.

"There is no change in the Hamas position. Israel is threatening us and attacking us - we are only responding to provocations. But we do not intend to initiate any action, like the resumption of suicide bombings," Yousef said.

However, Fawzi Barhum, Hamas spokesman in Gaza, told Haaretz that the organisation intended to use any means possible to achieve its aims. He refused to confirm or deny the charges by the Shin Bet deputy head.

Seven Palestinians - at least five of them suspected militants - were killed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by Israeli troops at the weekend.

Meanwhile, prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas will meet in Jerusalem on Tuesday ahead of a regional summit expected to take place in the US in November.

At an intelligence briefing during the Israeli government cabinet meeting on Sunday, the deputy head of Shin Bet said the Hamas leadership in Damascus had instructed West Bank-based militants to attempt a large-scale attack inside Israel.

"There are efforts by Khaled Meshal [Hamas' Damascus-based political bureau chief] and the Hamas leadership abroad to formulate a plan to undermine the diplomatic efforts between Abbas and Israel," the unnamed senior official reportedly told the ministers.

He said that Hamas was very frustrated by developments in the Gaza Strip and the losses the group had suffered in recent operations by the Israel Defence Forces.

The officer also pointed to Fatah's steadfast refusal to resume negotiations with Hamas and the continuing pressure on Islamic militants in the West Bank.

Israeli forces have killed at least 20 Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank over the past week and forces in the Golan Heights are reportedly still on a relatively high level of alert.


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