Hamas Calls Off Suicide Bombings; Two Islamic Activists Killed in Gunbattle with Police
The Islamic group Hamas is stopping its suicide bombings in Israel and all mortar attacks, a statement from the group's political wing said Friday morning.
"We announce the stopping of all martyr operations in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1948 (Israel) and an end to all mortar shelling," the group said.
The reference to "martyr operations" is the Palestinian term for suicide bombings.
"We ask all members of Hamas, especially the al-Qassam wing, to implement this decision now," it said, addressing its military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.
"This decision is to protect our Palestinian national union and to guard our way of struggle until we get our independence, although we know the Israeli occupation and its aggression policy will continue."
A senior Hamas official speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP on Wednesday that the group would halt its suicide bombings inside Israel but would not make a formal announcement to that effect.
However, some members of the political wing of Hamas denied that statement.
Hamas, along with its smaller counterpart Islamic Jihad, has rocked Israel with a gruesome campaign of suicide bombings since the start of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in 1993.
Its deadly back-to-back suicide bombings on December 1 and 2 in Jersusalem and northern Israel, which left 26 civilians dead, triggered a massive Israeli military retaliation, and threw the militant group on a collision course with Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Auhthority.
Arafat, under heavy Israeli and international pressure, launched a huge campaign of arrests of more than 180 Islamic activists and shut at least 40 offices and charities affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
A young Palestinian was killed Thursday night in clashes between security forces and Hamas members who were trying to free a group of activists who had been arrested in the northern Gaza Strip for attempting to fire mortars at Jewish settlements.
Some 27 others were also wounded in clashes Thursday between security forces and Hamas supporters over the Palestinian Authority's attempt to arrest a senior Hamas leader Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi at his home.
A second Palestinian civilian was killed during a raging gunbattle Friday between Islamic activists and Palestinian police in the Jabaliya refugee camp near Gaza City that also left at least 50 people injured, medical sources said.
The man, who was not immediately identified, had been seriously injured in the fighting and died in hospital.
Earlier, 18-year-old Abdelaziz al-Sawarka, from the Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia, was killed in the clashes. (AFP, GAZA)
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