Palestinian Islamic liberation movement Hamas has declared: ‘No to killing, banditry, and the policy of kidnapping foreigners’.

In a statement posted on the Palestinian Information Centre website on 31 December, Hamas asks: ‘Have the crimes of kidnapping foreigners become a pursued policy aimed at derailing the resistance from its course, in an attempt to tarnish its image and impose the policy of intimidation and terrorism by some sides? . . .

‘What is happening is something we have not been familiar with before. There is no security or safety. The citizen is no longer reassured of his own security and that of his children. He is also no longer reassured about his property.

‘The foreign guests are also no longer safe in our country as a result of irresponsible practices, in terms of kidnapping, killing and banditry that we have never known in our country before, as well as the fierce struggle over posts, the law of the jungle, and the monopoly, the plundering and the squandering of public funds.

‘We are now in a society without a law to control the situation, a judiciary that holds people to account or consciences, which turn over a new leaf.’

Hamas goes on to stress the following:

‘First: All the manifestations of security and moral disorder do not express the nature of our Palestinian people under any circumstances, but they are alien to our society and only serve the interests of the Zionist enemy.

‘Second: We categorically reject any linkage between what is happening with the honourable and chaste weapons of the resistance. We call on all the honest people of the homeland to stand in one rank to isolate these deviant small gangs, which harm our people, history and struggle.

‘Third: We reiterate our complete rejection of any attack on foreigners as long as they are guests of our people, do not interfere in our internal affairs, and do not serve the interests of the Zionist enemy at the expense of our people.

‘Fourth: We stress the need to hold the legislative elections on schedule, and reject all attempts to bypass, postpone or cancel them.

‘Fifth: We stress that the elections constitute a deep-rooted right for our people in the city of Jerusalem. They also constitute an integral part of the general elections. We do not accept any conditions or obstacles by the Zionist occupation to obstruct their participation.

‘Sixth: Through the forthcoming elections, Hamas seeks to be a sincere partner to all the sincere and honest ones and the effective energies of our people to rebuild what has been destroyed by the occupation and to put our house in order under the ceiling of law, a fair judiciary, and mutual respect for the sake of building a clean homeland that is free of corruption, banditry and injustice.’

Hamas has rejected Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas’s statement that the legislative elections of 25 January would be postponed if Jerusalemites were not allowed to take part.

Abbas said on Monday: ‘We all agree that Jerusalem must be included in the elections, according to the 1996 standards. If it is not included, all the factions agree that there will be no elections.’

Hamas leader in Gaza, Isma’il Haniyah, said: ‘We should basically reject the Israeli attempts to dominate the Palestinian decision. Thus, we are astonished at the statements that there will be no elections without Jerusalem.

‘Why accept the Israeli measures regarding Jerusalem in the first place? The Palestinian stand should be clear that the elections will be held, including Jerusalem and its residents.

‘We should not move away from the elections on the pretext that there will be no elections without Jerusalem.

‘If we accept this Israeli stand, the Israeli occupation will determine, in the future, the nature of the Palestinian political system.

‘The Israel side might also cause problems for us along the democratic path sought by the Palestinian people.

We say that Jerusalem should be included. But, we should not allow the Israeli side to decide about Jerusalem’s participation in the elections.

‘This is a Palestinian national decision and Jerusalem should be included in the elections. We should all utterly reject any Israeli interference in this issue.’

The threat of a huge Israeli army ground operation in Gaza has been reported by the web version of Israeli paper Ma’ariv in reports carried on 1 January.

The report said: ‘Hamas committed itself to a cessation of attacks in the agreement that was signed with Abu-Mazin (Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas) at the beginning of the year.

‘This agreement was valid until the end of 2005; in other words, it expired last night.

‘At the weekend, the defence establishment monitored statements by elements from all terrorist organisations in order to learn what their positions were on the day after the tahadiyah (calm).

‘The main focus of attention was Hamas, the only organisation that honoured the calm almost completely.

‘Most of the terrorist attacks in the last year have been carried out by Islamic Jihad, which is responsible for murdering 24 Israelis.

‘The fact that Hamas has not perpetrated attacks has given its members a kind of immunity, since Israel has only been conducting a hunt for terrorist elements that have been engaged in planning immediate attacks,’ the Israeli newspaper claimed.

Another Ma’ariv report headlined ‘IDF readying for ground operation in case of escalation’, said: ‘Only last week, the chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, made it clear that he had no intention of recommending to the political echelon to launch a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip.

‘But the Qassam rocket fire and the ongoing anarchy in the PNA territories have led the defence minister to grant his overall approval for an operational plan for the Strip, which would include an incursion by ground forces in conjunction with aerial forces.

‘With apprehension increasing in the defence establishment that Hamas may abrogate the tahadiyah agreement after the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, and in view of the assessments that Hamas may resume the perpetration of terrorist attacks on a large scale, causing other organisations to join the fray, intensive staff work has been going on for the last few months in the Gaza Division, under the command of Brigadier-General Aviv Kokhavi, and in the Southern Command, headed by Major-General Yoav Galant.

‘The plan indicates that several operations are being prepared.

‘They are to begin with minor moves by Israeli forces to take over Qassam rocket launching areas and other strategic points that the IDF relinquished when it completed the disengagement.

‘ “This is a large-scale plan that was created in a continuing dialogue between Galant and Kokhavi,” a senior officer in the Southern Command told NRG Ma’ariv.

‘According to this officer, the plan sets out in detail an unprecedented operation for the eventuality that it should be decided to change the mode of action towards the Gaza Strip.

‘The idea for this operation was based from the outset on fielding an entire division, to which regular brigades would be attached.

‘It should be emphasised that the defence minister gave his overall approval for the plan after it was approved by Maj-Gen Galant and Chief of Staff Halutz.

‘The officer added that “the IDF has to be prepared for any option and to develop its readiness and capabilities in case there is a change in the level of terrorism”.

‘The officer stressed that “any future large-scale measure would, of course, require the approval of the political echelon”.’