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Hamas May Return to Talks With Palestinian Authority

By Greg Myre

the New York Times -- JERUSALEM

The Palestinian Authority said Saturday it believed that negotiations on a cease-fire could resume shortly with Hamas, even though the militant Islamic group declared it was breaking off the talks and would continue to make Israel a target.

The Palestinian leadership is required to rein in militants as part of the new Middle East peace plan, and at a meeting last week in Jordan, Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas called for an end to the armed uprising.

However, many Palestinians say he offered too much and has received too little in return from Israel. Hamas has been the most vocal, announcing on Friday that it was pulling out of the truce talks with the Palestinian Authority.

But after a Palestinian Cabinet meeting Saturday, ministers said they expected a resumption of the discussions.

“Having Hamas in the dialogue is a vital issue that we cannot ignore, and we hope that our brothers in Hamas will change their mind,” Nabil Amr, the Palestinian information minister, said after the Cabinet meeting.

Ziad Abu Amr, the Palestinian minister of culture, who was in charge of the cease-fire discussions with Hamas, said, “We hope in the coming days to resume the talks.”

Abu Amr said he planned to travel to Gaza, where the Hamas leadership is based, on either Sunday or Monday. The Palestinian prime minister was also prepared to go to Gaza, but no date had been set, Abu Amr said.

If Hamas carries out new attacks, it could easily undermine the recent moves to revive Middle East peacemaking. The current attempt to implement the peace plan is the most ambitious effort yet to halt 32 months of violence.

Hamas said Abbas’ conciliatory remarks at the meeting, where he spoke of the suffering of the Jewish people, failed to address the most important Palestinian demands. They include ending the Israeli military presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, permitting Palestinian refugees to return home, and establishing the capital of a Palestinian state in Jerusalem.

But Abbas told the Cabinet on Saturday that he did not specifically address these issues, because the peace plan calls for them to be negotiated in its third and final phase. The meeting was intended to generate momentum for implementing the first stage of the plan, he told Cabinet members, according to those present.

The peace plan seeks to establish a Palestinian state and resolve the Mideast conflict within three years.

Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator, said she was concerned that the dispute over the cease-fire could lead to “internal fragmentation” among Palestinians. She emphasized that there was widespread disappointment over the meeting.

“There was a tremendous letdown, not only among the political factions, but among ordinary people,” Ashrawi said. “The speeches did not address the most important issues for Palestinians, such as the Israeli occupation.”

At the meeting, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel did not seek to rule over the Palestinian people and said he accepted the aims of the peace plan. He also pledged to take down “unauthorized” Jewish settlements in the West Bank, though that has yet to begin.