Ambush Precedes Crisis Talks In Algeria

A MODERATE Muslim party leader was shot and killed Saturday, underlining the continuing violence in Algeria.

Gunmen killed Ali Ayeb, an executive member of Hamas, Algeria's moderate Islamist movement, and seriously wounded another official in an ambush in the eastern town of Constantine, party officials said Saturday.

Hamas and the Rally for Culture and Democracy are among the five parties that engaged in reconciliation talks with the government earlier this month. The talks broke off, but are to resume tomorrow.

Armed extremist groups trying to overthrow Algeria's Army-backed government have threatened Hamas leaders several times with reprisals. The killers' identities were not known.

The negotiations will not include the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which was on the brink of winning a 1992 parliamentary election when the results were scrapped.

FIS leaders say they will not participate in the talks until they are allowed to meet with the party's two top officials, who remain under house arrest in an undisclosed government residence following their release last Tuesday from a military prison near Algiers. Hamas has urged the authorities to negotiate with the FIS

Ayeb was the second senior Hamas leader to be killed. Last December, Mohamed Bouslimani, a party founder, was kidnapped and later found dead.

His killing was officially blamed on the Armed Islamic Group, viewed as the most radical armed faction opposed to the talks.

On Friday, Rabah Kebir, an FIS spokesman in exile in Germany, said his party was prepared to call a truce in the civil strife and negotiate a transition to democracy with Army-apppointed President Liamine Zeroual and other parties if the authorities met FIS conditions.

``As long as [the Front] has not held its own meeting, it cannot make any decision'' to attend the talks, he said.

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