Hamas Suggests Possible Cease-Fire With Israel

Hamas indicated Saturday that it may be willing to consider a one-year cease-fire with Israel, as the militant group reduced its rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel.

In the West Bank after nightfall, Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian and injured three others in the city of Nablus, Palestinian rescue said. The army said troops fired at an armed man during an arrest operation in the city.

A previous Gaza truce between Hamas and Israel unraveled in mid-May when Hamas increased rocket launchings into Israel, killing two Israelis. In counterstrikes on the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army has killed more than 60 Palestinians, most of them militants.

The efforts to halt the bloodshed will be the top subject in a meeting next week between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Abbas, leader of the moderate Fatah Party, has been trying to press coalition partner Hamas to renew the truce.

The militant group says it has not launched any rockets since Wednesday. The Islamic Jihad militant group and others took responsibility for the firing of at least three rockets toward Israel on Saturday. No injuries were reported.

Hamas deputy political leader Moussa Abu Marzouk suggested that the group may be interested in ceasing the violence.

"We may agree to a one-year cease-fire," Abu Marzouk was quoted as saying in an interview with the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram. "Both parties have to abide by it."

Abu Marzouk, who along with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal lives in exile in Syria, demanded that Israel also agree to a truce with Hamas, saying the only way for success was calm on both sides.

Several senior Hamas leaders, including Abu Marzouk, were in Cairo over the past week for talks with Egyptian officials on ways to calm fighting with Israel.

A member of the Hamas political bureau, Mohammad Nazal, confirmed that Hamas is considering a truce.

"Some private ideas were presented to Hamas (by Egyptian mediators) to reach a truce with Israel, and Hamas is about to undertake the suitable decision," Nazal said by telephone from Damascus.

Israel was skeptical of Hamas' intentions.

"The current ceasefire in Gaza is unfortunately a sham," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. "It would seem that before we talk about expanding the ceasefire, we should first get it right."

Hamas wants to get Israel to extend any Gaza cease-fire to the West Bank, where Israeli troops frequently conduct arrest raids against militants. Israel has reacted coolly to reports that Hamas is interested in a cease-fire.

Under a plan being worked out by Abbas, Gaza militants would halt rocket fire for a month to allow for negotiations on a more comprehensive cease-fire that would include the West Bank.

In the latest Israeli airstrike, on Friday, an Islamic Jihad militant was killed as he rode his motorcycle in southern Gaza.

The Hamas rocket fire intensified last month as fighting raged between the militant group and Fatah in the Gaza Strip, killing about 50 Palestinians. Although Hamas and Fatah have since agreed to halt the violence, tensions between the groups are high. It was not clear if Abbas could get Hamas to agree to stop firing against Israel.

After dark Saturday, Israeli troops entered the West Bank city of Nablus, in an arrest operation. In the center of the city, soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian in his shop and seriously injured another Palestinian, witnesses and rescue workers said. The army said soldiers shot toward a gunman and saw that he was hit.

In another incident, troops shot toward rock throwers, injuring two of them in the legs, witnesses said. The army said the Palestinians were carrying guns.

The internal fighting in Gaza has been exacerbated by a foreign aid boycott imposed since Hamas has not recognized Israel and not renounced violence. Aid did not resume despite the unity government since Hamas did not change its policies. Finance Minister Salam Fayyad has established an account to allow countries to circumvent Hamas when transferring aid.

On Saturday, the United Arab Emirates transferred $80 million, officials said. In recent weeks, Qatar sent $44 million, Saudi Arabia transferred $50 million and Norway gave $10 million.

Much of the money will be spent on covering the government payroll, and civil servants are to receive half their May salary in coming days, the aides said.

The Palestinian Authority is the largest employer in the West Bank and Gaza, and government salaries help provide for about one-third of the Palestinians. During the boycott, civil servants only received partial salary payments.