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Hamas rejects Arab peace overture to Israel, vows to continue attacks

©Associated Press
March 29, 2002

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Hamas, the Islamic militant group that said it was behind a lethal suicide bombing in Israel this week, rejected the Arab peace initiative to Israel on Thursday and vowed to continue "all kinds of resistance."

"The summit resolutions are below the aspirations and the sacrifices of the Palestinian people. The resolutions ignored a lot of the Palestinian people's demands," Osama Hamdan, Hamas' representative in Lebanon, told The Associated Press.

The overture, endorsed Thursday by the Arab League at a two-day summit in Beirut, offered Israel peace, recognition and "normal relations" in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from war-conquered Arab lands, creation of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital and a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.

Hamas, which has conducted a string of deadly attacks during the 18-month Palestinian intefadeh, or uprising, said it sent a suicide bomber who killed 20 people and wounded more than 130 others Wednesday at a Passover dinner in the Israeli resort town of Netanya.

President Bush has called Hamas one of the deadliest terrorist organizations in the world and has frozen the financial assets of groups accused on financially supporting it.

In Gaza City, Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantisi said the Arab summit did not change anything for his group, which is dedicated to Israel's destruction.

"As long as there is occupation, there will be a resistance. So we say it clearly: Occupation should be stopped and then there will be something else," Rantisi said.

"I believe that the resistance and the intefadeh will continue in all forms," Hamdan said. Asked if "all forms" includes suicide bombings, he replied: "The type of operation is left for Hamas' military wing to decide."

Rantisi denied the Netanya bombing was timed to coincide with the Arab summit, which convened about seven hours before the bombing.

The Palestinian Authority said it "strongly condemned" the Netanya attack. Arafat ordered the arrests of key members of Hamas and two other militant groups, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militia linked to Arafat's own Fatah movement.

In Beirut, Hamdan said that, instead of offering Israel peace, the Arab summit "should have cut all kinds of relations and contacts with the Zionist entity."

"We want a clear commitment to the right of return to the Palestinian refugees" and "clear resolutions in support of the resistance and the intefadeh, he said. "The Palestinian people want an Arab boycott in the face of Israeli aggression and terrorism against them."

The peace initiative's call for a "just solution" for the refugee problem was based on U.N. resolutions that call for refugees either to return to land they lost in Israel or receive compensation.

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