Tue, Oct 28, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Palestinian prime minister welcomes talks with Hamas

AP , JERUSALEM

The Palestinian prime minister welcomed the prospect of talks with Hamas, and the militant Islamic group said it would consider a halt to attacks against Israelis, just days after it took part in a deadly strike against a Jewish settlement in Gaza.

The tentative moves Sunday toward a new truce came after Israel retaliated for the attack on the Netzarim settlement by blowing up three empty high-rise buildings across from the isolated Jewish enclave.

Hamas spokesman Ismail Haniyeh said Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia had offered talks toward a new ceasefire with Israel, and Hamas accepted.

Late Sunday, Qureia confirmed that he favors talks with Islamic militants responsible for most of the 104 suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis in three years of conflict.

Qureia, who has been pushing for ceasefire talks since taking office at the head of a President Yasser Arafat-appointed emergency government earlier this month, said on Sunday: "We welcome any meetings or dialogue with the Palestinian factions ... in order to reach a national position that will achieve the national interests of the Palestinian people."

He said he would include both Hamas and the smaller violent group, Islamic Jihad, in the talks.

However, Qureia's own position remained shaky. Arafat appointed the emergency Cabinet after Qureia failed, in weeks of wrangling with Arafat's Fatah leadership, to field an agreed slate of Cabinet ministers.

The present Cabinet is to serve until Nov. 4, and Qureia has indicated that he will not continue in his post, triggering a new crisis.

Haniyeh said his group had responded favorably to an invitation to meet with Qureia. "Hamas is preparing for this meeting," he said, adding that no date has been set.

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