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Egypt: Hamas Must Recognize Israel

Three top Egyptian officials Wednesday called on Hamas to recognize Israel, disarm and honor past peace deals in a drive by Arab governments to push the militant Palestinian group to moderate after its surprise election victory.

A Palestinian official denied, however, that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose mainstream Fatah organization was battered by Hamas in the elections, had declared he would not work with the militant organization to form a new government unless it renounced violence.

The denial came after an Israeli Foreign Ministry official had said Abbas had set such a condition.

Abbas will meet with Hamas leaders in Gaza on Friday to consult on the forming the next Palestinian government, said the official, who is close to Abbas. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue with reporters.

The rapid exchange of statements was a sign of just how frenzied negotiations concerning Hamas have become in the days since it won the surprise election victory last week. Arab countries have joined Israel in its fear that the rise of Hamas might boost the momentum and popularity of radical groups in their own countries.

Hamas itself also gave out somewhat conflicting signals.

In other developments:

  • Thousands of club-wielding riot police, backed by bulldozers and water cannons, began evacuating Amona, an illegal Israeli outpost in the West Bank, pulling stone-throwing settlers from rooftops in the fiercest confrontation over settlements since Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip last summer. Settlers pelted rocks, eggs and paint-filled balloons at helmeted riot police, who approached barricaded rooftops in the shovels of bulldozers. From behind barbed wire ringing the roofs, protesters also used sticks to beat back troops climbing up ladders. Dozens of people were injured, and more than 40 rioters were arrested. Israeli media said more than 50 police officers were among the injured, including one who was in serious condition.
  • Israel has frozen this month's transfer of $45 million in tax rebates and customs payments to the Palestinian Authority while it reviews its options following the Hamas victory in last week's election. "There is a concern on our side that the moneys transferred will come back to haunt us in the form of suicide bombings," said Mark Regev, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman.
  • In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Bush said the "leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism and work for lasting peace." Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk rejected this call. Abu Marzouk insisted that "Hamas changes neither its skin nor its principles and it will deal with the West on this basis."
  • The Palestinian envoy to the EU on Wednesday urged the bloc not to base its policies toward the Palestinian Authority on fear of Hamas. The envoy, Leila Shahid, also cautioned the international community not to call into question the results of last week's election. "There has been a demonization of Hamas," Shahid said. "Fear leads people to the wrong decisions. The stakes are too high in the long term, they deserve to be judged carefully."
  • In the Gaza Strip, an explosion blew out the walls in the home of Suleiman Abu Mutlak, a former Palestinian security official, but caused no injuries. Abu Mutlak blamed Hamas for the blast, the first attack on a leading figure in the defeated Fatah Party since Hamas' victory. Hamas denied involvement.
  • The militant Islamic Jihad group and gunmen with ties to Fatah said they fired two missiles at an Israeli navy boat off Gaza. The army said that despite reports of explosions, the Israeli boat did not identify any missiles being launched at it, possibly because they missed their target.

    Moussa Abu Marzouk, the deputy head of Hamas' Syrian-based political bureau, told The Associated Press in an interview that last year's cease-fire with Israel could be renewed to placate the Western powers.

    "We understand that they need a quiet region, without conflicts, and we know that it's possible to attain this goal," he said. "I believe that this is one of the options which we could propose in the future to cooperate with the international community to bring about peace and tranquility to this region."

    But Abu Marzouk also said Hamas would not change its policies toward Israel, as the United States, Europe and Arab nations are urging. Hamas calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

    "These conditions could not be accepted and the U.S. president should accept reality and facts... . He should deal with Hamas as it is," Abu Marzouk said.

    A Hamas delegation headed by newly elected Hamas leadar Said Sayam was on its way to Cairo on Wednesday, Egypt's news agency said.

    In Cairo, Egypt's top intelligence official, Omar Suleiman told journalists that Egypt intends to tell Hamas leaders that they must recognize Israel, disarm and honor past peace deals. Suleiman spoke after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met in Cairo with Abbas.

    Hamas is under growing pressure to renounce its ideology and recognize Israel's right to exist as a condition for having contact with Israel and the rest of the world, and for receiving millions of dollars in foreign aid, the lifeline of the Palestinian economy.

    Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit also stressed that Hamas won't be accepted until it disarms.

    "When you sit in the (Palestinian) parliament, you talk with your tongue and not with a gun," Aboul Gheit said. "They should not run from the reality."

    Mubarak's spokesman, Suleiman Awaad, also called on Hamas to recognize peace deals with Israel. Former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "was able to change his position. There is nothing that prevents smart leaders from changing their positions to behave accordingly," Awaad said.

    Suleiman, the intelligence official, cautioned that it may take time to change the militant group's positions and the effort might not succeed.

    "Nobody will talk to them before they stop violence, recognize Israel and accept (peace) agreements," Suleiman said. "These are radical people. But we have to try to convince them to change their position. It's still difficult to make them change 180 degrees... . This might take six months or more. We will try."

    At a joint press conference with Aboul Gheit after her talks with Mubarak, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni urged all world's nations to push Hamas to moderate.

    Hamas poses "a danger to the future of the region.The international community should put conditions before it (Hamas) will be able to take over," she said. "I hope the Palestinian Authority will not turn into an authority of terrorism," said Livni.

    Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan, however said Hamas will go forward with plans to form a new Palestinian government.

    "We do not need lessens from others.We have enough wisdom to carry out or duties without giving in any our people's basic interests," he told the Associated Press from Beirut.

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