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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hamas Chief Hints at Possible Truce

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- A day after his triumphant homecoming, Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin on Tuesday held out the possibility of a cease-fire with Israel that would end suicide bombings.


The offer, accompanied by demands such as full Israeli withdrawal from occupied lands, appeared to indicate the Islamic militant group was willing to negotiate rather than destroy the peace process.


In the past, Hamas leaders have spoken of a "holy war" to establish an Islamic state in all of what is now Israel.


An Israeli official confirmed Tuesday reports that Israel had received an earlier cease-fire proposal from Hamas -- conveyed via Jordan's King Hussein -- two days before Israel's botched assassination attempt on a Hamas leader in Jordan.


But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the offer was received by low-level Israeli officials "as something not serious" and didn't reach Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's desk until the day of or the day after the assassination attempt, and then only as an intelligence report.


David Bar-Illan, a senior aide to Netanyahu, said Yassin's peace offer was "a positive change" despite the "unacceptable conditions."


"We would like to hope that it means that he will preach peace rather than violence," Bar-Illan said. "There is no question he has a following and charisma."


Speaking at his home in the Sabra district of Gaza City, Yassin said he had told Israeli officials that Hamas militants would stop targeting civilians if Israel would do the same and also halt the confiscation of Palestinian land for Jewish settlements.


"If Israel stops its attacks against our civilians, we will not do anything against civilians," said Yassin, surrounded by supporters and well-wishers in his home.


Bar-Illan said Israel would not pursue a cease-fire agreement unless Hamas formally abandoned its policy of attacking Israelis and destroying the Jewish state.


Yassin also made conciliatory gestures Tuesday toward Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who has been under intense pressure from Israel and the United States to crack down on Hamas.


Yassin said he would ask Arafat to release Hamas prisoners who have not been charged and to open closed Hamas institutions, but he said there was no competition between Hamas and Arafat's Palestinian Authority. "I say to the Palestinian Authority that we are not fighting them and we will not fight them," he said. "We will not allow for there to be a struggle between us and our brothers. ... We are one against the enemy."


Yassin, who served eight years of a life sentence for ordering killings of Israelis and Palestinian collaborators during the Palestinian uprising, returned Monday to the Gaza Strip as part of a swap worked out following the failed assassination attempt.


Israel also freed 20 other Palestinian and Jordanian prisoners. In return, two Israeli Mossad agents captured in the operation were freed and returned to Israel.


Yassin and other Hamas leaders stopped short of endorsing the idea of a peace settlement to end the conflict with Israel, saying only a limited cease-fire was possible after which fighting would resume.


"The Islamic religion gives us the right to have a limited cease-fire, and not the right to have a cease-fire forever," Yassin said.


In offering a cease-fire, Yassin used the word "hudna." The term has historical roots, named after the place where the Prophet Mohammed arranged a 10-year truce with the Qraish, an ancient tribe that ruled Mecca.


A senior Israeli security official said Israel was doubtful of the sincerity of the offer, contending that Hamas leaders believe they have a religious basis for making temporary agreements they don't intend to keep. The truce with the Qraish lasted only 18 months before the prophet's forces took Mecca.


Yassin left unclear what Hamas' demands were.


However, he said "If Israel would withdraw completely from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and leave its settlements there and in Jerusalem, I will have a cease-fire with Israel. I am ready to sign a cease-fire agreement with them."


"After the end of this limited period, Hamas can resist and fight. This truce for a limited period is not a comprehensive peace," Rantisi said.