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 Friday, 17 January, 2003, 13:19 GMT
Hamas rejects truce plan
Smoke rises from the home of a suspected Hamas militant being destroyed by Israel
Egypt's plan urges Israel to stop targeting Palestinians
Militant Palestinians have pledged to continue suicide attacks inside Israel.

The decision by the Hamas group is a rejection of a ceasefire plan reportedly put forward by Egypt.

It comes before a scheduled meeting of Palestinian groups in Cairo to co-ordinate policy towards Israel.

Our position is against ending the resistance and abiding by a one-year truce

Abdel Aziz Rantissi,
Hamas
In Israel itself, security forces blew up what appeared to be a booby-trapped raft while support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appeared to be increasing ahead of this month's general election.

Egypt has reportedly drawn up a proposal for the Palestinian groups to promise to stop attacks in return for demanding that Israel halts its "targeted killings" of suspected militants and attacks on their homes.

Ten factions have been invited to Cairo for talks next week, Palestinian and Egyptian officials say.

They include Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Fatah movement of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Senior Hamas official Abdel Aziz Rantissi said his group would attend, but rejected the peace plan.

"Our position is against ending the resistance and abiding by a one-year truce," he said.

The statement ahead of the talks was criticised by a senior member of Fatah.

Zacharia al-Agha told the AFP news agency: "It is unnecessary to announce your position before the talks, while everyone should be taking steps to find common ground."

Latest polls

The Cairo meeting will start just six days before Israel's general election on 28 January.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
The future looks brighter for Ariel Sharon
The most recent opinion polls indicate a resurgence of support for Mr Sharon and his governing Likud Party.

A survey commissioned by the liberal newspaper Ha'aretz saw Likud winning 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, up from 27 predicted in the paper's poll a week earlier.

Both Likud and Mr Sharon himself have been tainted by corruption allegations.

Analysts said voters who turned against Likud when the scandal reports began are now rallying behind Mr Sharon, believing he has been denied a chance to defend himself.

The Ha'aretz poll suggested support for the main opposition Labour Party was waning. Other surveys showed similar trends.

While Likud looks likely to win the most seats, Mr Sharon will still need to find partners for a coalition government, correspondents say.

Mr Sharon backs a hard line against Palestinian militants seeking their own state. His Labour opponent, Amram Mitzna, favours peace talks even before a complete cessation of violence.

Raft explosion

In the latest sign of tension, the army said a naval gunboat had fired at what appeared to be an unmanned, booby-trapped raft about four kilometres (2.5 miles) off the Gaza coast.

It exploded but there were no reports of casualties, a military source said.

Israel banned Palestinians from going to sea off the Gaza Strip in November, after suicide bombers in a boat blew themselves up near a navy ship, injuring four sailors.

More than 700 Israelis and more than 2,000 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the intifada in September 2000.


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10 Jan 03 | Middle East
14 Nov 02 | Middle East
11 Oct 02 | Middle East
26 Sep 02 | Middle East
15 Aug 02 | Middle East
12 Aug 02 | Middle East
03 Dec 01 | profiles
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