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Palestinians Battle in Gaza Strip, Hamas Suspends Attacks

BY Admin  December 21, 2001 at 5:30 PM EDT

The fighting, the worst between Palestinians since 1994, erupted between Palestinian police allied with President Yasser Arafat and Islamic militants in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

The latest incident began during a funeral for a 17-year-old Islamic Jihad supporter killed Thursday in a gunfight with Palestinian police. As mourners marched by a police barracks, several in the crowd opened fire with automatic weapons. The police returned fire and moved into the camp seeking to arrest those who started the shooting.

The latest clashes bring the total of those killed in internal Palestinian fighting in the last two days to six, with nearly 100 injured.

Hamas suspends attacks

As violence continued to wrack the Gaza Strip, the militant group Hamas announced it was suspending suicide bombings and mortar attacks for the time being.

“For the sake of the unity of our Palestinian people and in order to protect the path of Jihad to achieve freedom and independence, and despite our full knowledge of the Zionist enemy’s intentions to liquidate the will of our people and humiliate us through aggression, and in response to many wise people who want to avoid giving our occupiers a chance to split our unity, and because of our historic responsibility at this sensitive stage in the history of our people, we announce the halting of martyrdom operations inside the occupied lands of 1948 and the halting of the firing of mortar shells until further notice,” Hamas said in a statement released Friday.

A senior Palestinian official said the Hamas decision resulted from negotiations between leaders of the group and senior Palestinian Authority officials that ended early Friday, the Associated Press reports.

The smaller militant group Islamic Jihad was considering a similar move.

“There is thinking within the movement towards taking this path [freezing suicide attacks],” Nafez Azzam, a senior Islamic Jihad official in Gaza, told Reuters. “The issue will be decided finally by the leadership abroad, but we are moving towards that path.”

A representative who attended the meetings told Reuters that Islamic Jihad would end attacks until a final decision was made whether to formally suspend the actions.

Throughout Israel, government officials questioned the sincerity of the Hamas move.

“What’s positive? That they stop terror activities in one place, but keep murdering women and children somewhere else?” Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told the AP. “As long as the terror activities continue … we will implement our right of self-defense, and we will act against them with all our might.”

Other Israelis said the decision had more to do with political motives than peace efforts.

“This is a tactical move by Hamas which is a terrorist organization,” Reuters quoted Gideon Meir, a senior Foreign Ministry official, as saying. “I think there is an agreement, a silent agreement [between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas] to postpone the crackdown for a while.”

Hamas did indicate that unless the suspension brought peace to the region, attacks would begin again.

“It’s either a victorious Jihad or martyrdom,” the Hamas statement read.

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have refused any compromise with the Jewish state and have opposed past peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.