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Saturday, 13 January, 2001, 10:48 GMT
Analysis: Palestinian divisions
Hamas procession
Hamas encourages people to carry guns
By Mike Donkin in Gaza

The Palestinian leadership has shown a renewed readiness to return to peace talks.

But in the past weeks of the uprising, Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement had seemed to be becoming more militant, with its supporters turning to guns instead of stones in the clashes.

Yasser Arafat
Fatah says the people are behind Mr Arafat
Its agreement to new talks has been called an "insult to the Intifada" by the Islamic extremist group Hamas.

Talks may be on the Palestinian Authority's agenda again, but their political rivals, Hamas, say they just don't seem to learn by their mistakes.

'Promises and illusions'

One of the Islamic group's leaders, Ismail Abu Shanab, believes the breakdown of the peace process this summer proved that they were right to oppose it all along.

In the last seven years, we have changed the position of the world towards the Palestinians

Hani Al Hassan, Fatah
"This is a lesson from seven years of negotiations," says Mr Abu Shanab.

"Hamas understood the Israeli mentality from the beginning. And we told our friends in Fatah: 'The Israelis are giving you promises and illusions, and they will not give you anything by negotiation, because you don't have the force to force them'."

And he warns the Palestinian Authority's president to forget about a summit with the Israeli prime minister.

International opinion

"It's better for Arafat not to meet with the Israelis at this moment, unless they declare openly that they abide by the 1967 borders and United Nations resolutions," Mr Abu Shanab said.

Palestinian stone-thrower
The talks have been called an insult to the intifada
Hani Al Hassan, a leading member of Fatah and an adviser to Mr Arafat he doesn't believe that the long, drawn-out peace process has been a total waste of time.

"That's not true - because in the last seven years, we have changed the position of the world towards the Palestinians," Mr Al-Hassan said.

"Now everyone in the world believes that the Palestinians are willing to make peace and Israel is under question."

And he says that, however much hatred the Palestinians have shown for Israel in their uprising, they will not condemn Mr Arafat for taking their fight back to the negotiating table.

Popular military intifada

"The people are behind Yasser Arafat," Mr Al-Hassan said. "But they are saying to him: 'Don't make concessions. We gave you what you need. So you have now to get for us all our rights.' Arafat has the greatest internal unity for ten years."

At their latest rally in Gaza, Hamas followers ritually slit the throat of a live sheep, which they had branded with the Star of David.

Palestinian boy
Some are prepared to give peace a chance
Their political manifesto now, as Mr Abu Shanab says, can be summed up simply as "Developing this intifada into a popular military intifada, to achieve more pressure on the Israelis."

And when he says military, he means military.

"We encourage people to carry guns," he said. "Whether it takes a long time or a short time, we have no choice except to confront the Israeli occupation."

Human approach

Mr Al Hassan sighs at fundamentalism like that. The Palestinian cause, he believes, has to be pressed much more realistically.

"Hamas is a religious movement, and religious people believe that one has to finish off the other," he says. "And that's a big difference."

It is not that Fatah has gone soft, he insists. It was their fighters' blood that was shed to achieve Palestinian recognition of any sort.

But for now, Fatah prefers to adopt a more mature and a more human approach.

"We are experts in armed struggle," said Mr Al Hassan. "If we decide to go on the offensive - the military offensive - we can hurt the Israelis a lot.

"You know, in our position, Israeli and Palestinian, everyone can kill. It is so easy to kill because we are living with each other."

Tempers are still extremely short in Gaza. But some at least are prepared to give peace another chance.

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19 Dec 00 | Middle East
UN rejects Mid-East peace force
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