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Hamas leader Haniyeh offers Gaza truce

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh announced preconditions for a period of calm with Israel in a speech Wednesday.

By IBRAHIM BARZAKAssociated Press / March 13, 2008



Gaza City, Gaza

Hamas's Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Wednesday called for a period of calm with Israel, laying out conditions that would imply limited international acceptance of Islamist militant rule in Gaza but also allow US-brokered Mideast peace talks to move forward.

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The offer came amid growing signs that Israel and Hamas are moving toward an Egyptian-brokered deal to end weeks of cross-border fighting that has killed over 120 people, nearly all of them Palestinians.

At the center of the arrangement would be the deployment of officers loyal to Hamas's political rival, President Mahmoud Abbas, at Gaza's crossings. Hamas officials said they accept such a deployment in principle, even though it means giving up some control, and that they have given Egypt names of pro-Abbas officers who they deem acceptable.

In a speech at Gaza City's Islamic University, Mr. Haniyeh demanded an end to Israeli military activity in the Gaza Strip, which Hamas seized in June 2007. "We are talking about a mutual comprehensive calm, which means that the enemy must fulfill its obligations," Haniyeh said. "The Israelis must stop the aggression ... including assassinations and invasions, end the sanctions, and open the borders."

While Haniyeh's demands were not new, the timing and location of the speech were significant. Haniyeh had been in hiding for several weeks during heavy fighting with Israel, and only has felt safe enough to appear in public in recent days.