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Egypt, Jordan join in warning Hamas

Group sticks with militancy but may extend cease-fire

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CAIRO, Egypt — Egypt and Jordan joined the West in pressuring the militant group Hamas Wednesday, declaring it must recognize Israel and renounce violence if it wants to lead the Palestinians.

Hamas held fast to its militant platform but suggested it might extend its cease-fire with the Israelis.

The message from the two key American allies in the Arab world — both nations have signed peace treaties with Israel — was the strongest yet to the militant group, which calls for Israel's destruction, opposes peace talks, refuses to lay down its arms and had carried out dozens of deadly suicide bombings against Israelis.

Rumors had swirled through the Arab world over the past several days that moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction was defeated in the vote, would meet by week's end with Hamas leaders in Gaza to talk about forming a government.

But all sides have subsequently played down that possibility, with Fatah members saying Abbas was in no hurry, viewing the passage of time as a tool for winning concessions from Hamas.

In Cairo, however, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit spoke bluntly as he emerging from separate talks between President Hosni Mubarak with Abbas and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

"When you (Hamas) sit in the (Palestinian) parliament, you talk with your tongue and not with a gun. . . . (Hamas) should not run away from the reality," he said.

Omar Suleiman, Egypt's intelligence chief and point man on Palestinian issues, was even more emphatic: "Nobody will talk to them before they stop violence, recognize Israel and accept (peace) agreements."

Mubarak's spokesman, Suleiman Awaad, said Hamas had no choice but to abide by deals already made between the Palestinians and Israel.

Former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "was able to change his position. There is nothing that prevents smart political leaders from changing their positions to behave accordingly," Awaad said.

In Amman, Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit, said the Jordanian government — which expelled Hamas leaders after it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 — would continue its ban on contacts with the group's exiled leaders.

That would signal an attempt to isolate Hamas and split its leadership abroad from members and leaders in the Palestinian territories, who have led the violent campaign against Israel.

Livni whose government has said it won't deal with the militant movement said Hamas' sweeping win in the Palestinian parliamentary vote threatened to undo years of negotiations.

The militant group, she said, posed "a danger to the future of the region. The international community should put conditions before it (Hamas) will be able to take over. I hope the Palestinian Authority will not turn into an authority of terrorism."

In an interview with The Associated Press, however, Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk pointed to a different reality and rejected President Bush's call in his State of the Union address for Hamas to disarm and recognize the Jewish state.

"These conditions cannot be accepted and the U.S. president should accept the reality, because the Palestinian people have exercised their democratic choice, with mechanisms that are basically Western, and they chose Hamas," Abu Marzouk said.

But he did hold out the possibility of extending the truce with Israel that expired at the end of last year but has held since then.

"We understand that they need a quiet region, without conflicts, and we know that it's possible to attain this goal," he said. "I believe that this (a renewed truce) is one of the options which we could propose in the future to cooperate with the international community to bring about peace and tranquility to this region."

Hamas, the Arab acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement, was founded by Palestinian members of the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood Movement in 1988. Its aim was to destroy the state of Israel.

"The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic consecration for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered; it, or any part of it, should not be given up," the Hamas charter states.

The flood of statements and counter statements signaled the frenzied nature of Arab and international diplomacy that was spawned by Hamas's astounding success in its first political outing — last week's Palestinian vote.

Even Suleiman, head of Egyptian intelligence — dubbed the most powerful in the Arab world — said he was surprised.

"We thought they might take some 40 per cent (of the seats)," he said. In fact, Hamas swept the vote, capturing 74 of 132 seats.

With that kind of support, Suleiman said he doubted Hamas would be quick to change course.

"These are radical people," he said. "It's still difficult to make them change 180 degrees."

Egypt and Jordan fear the rise of Hamas might boost the momentum and popularity of radical groups in their own countries.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest Islamic opposition group, won some 20 per cent of the seats in recent parliamentary elections — a sevenfold increase over the last legislature and a thorn in Mubarak's regime's side. In Jordan, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood group warned his movement would stage a Hamas-style resurgence if the government held a new parliamentary vote.