Hamas Rejects U.S. Timeline Document as 'Farce'
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – A U.S. document proposing a detailed May-to-August timeline for easing Palestinian movement and improving Israeli security was being reviewed by the Palestinian leadership on Saturday, even as the top Hamas leader dismissed the plan as a "farce."
Also Saturday, Islamic Jihad militants fired three rockets toward Israel, damaging a house in the town of Sderot, to avenge the killing of three members of the group by Israeli undercover troops a day earlier.
The latest fighting pressured a weak truce reached by Israel and militant groups along the Gaza-Israel border in November. Militants have said the truce can only work if Israel also stops operations in the West Bank. Islamic Jihad has frequently fired rockets from Gaza, despite the truce.
The U.S. document was recently given to Israel and the Palestinians.
It calls on Israel to remove many West Bank roadblocks, improving operations at Gaza's crossings and arrange for a truck convoy between the West Bank and Gaza, two areas separated by Israel.
Officials in Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office, citing security concerns, said some of the demands might be difficult to meet, such as arranging for a West Bank-Gaza link. Israel Radio said senior Israeli officials are to discuss the document in detail at a meeting Sunday.
The Palestinians are asked to halt rocket fire from Gaza at Israel and prevent weapons smuggling into the coastal strip. Israel is urged to allow weapons and equipment to reach security forces loyal to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Most of the points were already contained in a troubled November 2005 agreement, brokered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice following Israel's pullout from Gaza. Setting a timeline, albeit non-binding unless both sides accept it, is the new element of the document.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the document is being presented to the PLO Executive Committee, a top decision-making body, for review on Saturday. Erekat said the Palestinians welcomed the timeline as the only way to translate words into action.
On Sunday, Abbas was to head to Gaza to brief Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. The Islamic militant group governs in a shaky coalition with Abbas' Fatah Party.
On Friday, Hamas' supreme leader, exiled Khaled Mashaal, told a rally in Syria that the Palestinians should not agree to halt rocket fire in exchange for an easing of travel restrictions.
"I swear it's a farce ... the equation has now become: dismantling the checkpoints, in exchange for (giving up) resistance," he said in comments carried by the Arab satellite TV station Al Jazeera. "This has become the Palestinian cause."
Erekat said Mashaal's comments were premature.
However, they suggested that Hamas is increasingly considering a return to violence.
Last month, Hamas militants in Gaza had fired rockets toward Israel, a first since the cease-fire took effect. Mashaal and other Hamas leaders have also threatened a third Palestinian uprising if the international community does not lift its sanctions on the Palestinian government, imposed after Hamas came to power last year. The Hamas-Fatah coalition has been unable to break the embargo.
Abbas told Fatah after a return from Europe this week that he has made no progress toward lifting the sanctions. Most countries maintain the boycott because Hamas refuses to renounce violence and recognize Israel.
In his meetings with Fatah leaders, Abbas stopped short of threatening resignation or early elections.
However, Deputy Prime Minister Azzam al-Ahmed said Friday that Abbas told him the international isolation of the government and lack of progress with Israel could bring "a real crisis."