Hamas spokesman: Palestinians to continue fight
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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- The Palestinian group Hamas, which the United States has declared a terrorist organization, claimed responsibility for Wednesday's suicide bombing at a hotel in the northern Israeli coastal city of Netanya.
The military wing of Hamas has carried out several attacks on Israeli civilians and military targets since the current intifada began 18 months ago. Usama Hamdan, a spokesman for the group, talked with CNN's Bill Hemmer about the attack and the situation in the Middle East: He spoke from the Lebanese capital Beirut, the site of the Arab League summit.
HAMDAN: Let me first make it clear that Hamas claimed responsibility for this attack. They announced that in Ramallah, not Lebanon.
We are not talking now about eliminating Israel. We are talking about what the Israeli government is doing. They are killing our people, they are destroying our houses, they are attacking us by all the American weapons they have.
This sends a message to all the world that we are trying to fight for our own freedom against a terrorist government in Israel led by (Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon. This is the main point of this attack.
HEMMER: What do you want ultimately? Is it the elimination of Israel from the Middle East?
HAMDAN: I am not talking about eliminating Israel. I am talking about fighting for freedom against Israel's occupation of our lands. Israel is always, always trying to talk about (Palestinians wanting) to eliminate Israel. But as Palestinians, we are talking about the occupation.
The Palestinians will continue their struggle against Israel until they reach their goals. The main goal for the Palestinians now is to repatriate their lands and have their own state.
HEMMER: If there's any chance of Israel returning the West Bank and Gaza, there has to be some sort of cease-fire worked out, and then a peace agreement worked out after that. So why not hold back on your fire and see what can happen at the negotiating table?
HAMDAN: You are talking about cease-fires. Two months ago, (Palestinian leader) Yasser Arafat announced a cease-fire, and for three weeks no attacks were launched against Israel. But after three weeks, Sharon attacked the Palestinians -- he killed two of their leaders, one from Hamas and the other from Fatah.
After that, we understood that there is no real cease-fire with the Israeli government, that they want this cease-fire as a trick to continue their operations against our people. So if they want a real cease-fire, they are supposed to withdraw their tanks from our cities.
They are supposed to announce the cease-fire from their side first. We are not asked to do that because we are under occupation. You can't ask us, with the knife on our neck, to raise up our hands -- we must fight not to make this knife cut our necks. So you can't talk about a cease-fire while he's killing our people.
HEMMER: Do you agree with some others in the Arab world who suggest that the violence is working by painting Israel right now into a corner? If that's the case, the violence will continue, will it not?
HAMDAN: The policies of the Israeli government (put) Israel in the corner. Regardless of our role in the peace process, I believe that there once was a peace process between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government. But (Israel) did not respect this peace process.
They continued attacking the Palestinians. They asked the Palestinian Authority to jail the Palestinians and to attack Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and at the same time they continued building their settlements. So what are you supposed to do? The main problem is that Israel thinks that they must have everything without giving up anything.
HEMMER: The government of Israel is already calling this the "Passover massacre." How can you justify killing on a holiday such as this?
HAMDAN: I believe that it all depends on the Israel government. If they are looking for a real peace, they are supposed to take the first step. Let them withdraw their tanks, let them announce their position toward the peace and the peace process.
The Arab leaders in Beirut, they talked all day about the peace process ... with all their hearts. But there was no answer from Israel.
HEMMER: Will there be another suicide bombing tomorrow?
HAMDAN: When you are talking about the occupation, you must understand that no one will stop the Palestinians from fighting to liberate their lands and have their own rights. First of all, you have to ask Israelis for their own measurements for peace.
HEMMER: But will there be more suicide bombers, and could there be more tomorrow?
HAMDAN: No one in Hamas can answer this question because, as you know, the military wing of Hamas is separate from the political wing. The military wing has their own commands, and they launch their attacks according to the situation on the ground.
The answer that I can give you is that, when you are talking about this occupation, you have to expect the people to fight.
HEMMER: Some have suggested that the violence has not worked. Do you agree, or do you believe you are making progress with your attacks against Israel?
HAMDAN: Yes, we believe we are making progress. Israel will reach the point where there is no use of occupation, using power against the Palestinians. Israel must understand that the Palestinian people will liberate their lands after 54 years of occupation -- 30 years of occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.
The biggest and strongest army in the region, Israel could not bring peace to its people. In order to bring peace, Israel has to make another choice.
HEMMER: There is a Saudi peace initiative on the table that essentially would return the borders to what they were before 1967. If 100 percent of Arab leaders back the plan, would you go along with it?
HAMDAN: This proposal was introduced from Crown Prince Abdullah, and we are supposed to await the reaction of the Israeli government ... Ariel Sharon refused this proposal. If Israel continues refusing this proposal, it will not have peace or security. The Palestinians will continue their struggle until they make Israel understand and believe there is no other solution -- that if they want peace, then they must give the Palestinians their rights.
HEMMER: If there is an agreement reached on both sides, will that satisfy you? Will you hold back the suicide bombers from going into towns like Netanya?
HAMDAN: If Israel withdraws its tanks from Gaza and the West Bank, and there is a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as a capital, we can have a cease-fire for 15 or 20 years with Israel. But no one can talk about peace with Israel when you saw how they acted in the eight years after the 1993 Oslo agreement was signed.
HEMMER: How many suicide bombers are still in the pipeline on the Hamas side? Tens? Hundreds? Thousands?
HAMDAN: I can't give you a number. I believe if the situation continues as is, you will discover that all the Palestinians consider themselves suicide bombers. It's not all related to Hamas. (There have also been) attacks by Fatah, which is led by Yasser Arafat, or by the Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian groups. All the Palestinians are fighting Israel, so they have to expect such attacks from everywhere and from any Palestinian group.
HEMMER: What if Yasser Arafat said to stop it immediately? Would you listen?
HAMDAN: Yasser Arafat will not say stop it, because they are killing his own people. (If he did, he would have to) answer to the Palestinians. When Arafat did call for a cease-fire, everyone accepted the idea (except for) Israel.
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