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The horror of Hamas

THE HORROR OF MONDAY’S SUICIDE bombing in Tel Aviv, which killed the bomber and nine other people and wounded scores more, presented Hamas with an opportunity to break from its history as a supporter of terrorism. Instead, a spokesman for Hamas, which formed a Palestinian parliamentary government last month, described the attack carried out by another group, Islamic Jihad, as an act of self-defense.

If there was any lingering doubt that the U.S. and Europe were right to ostracize the Hamas government and cut off economic aid, it has been dramatically dispelled. It remains part of the problem, not part of any Arab-Israeli solution.

That doesn’t mean Israel should respond to the attack with self-defeating actions, such as a wholesale reoccupation of the Gaza Strip. It does mean that Israel has cause to crack down anew on Islamic Jihad and institute stronger security measures along the “Green Line” separating Israel and the West Bank -- even if that means injuring and inconveniencing innocent Palestinians. As always, they are hostages to the extremists.

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In the past, when the Palestinian Authority was controlled by the late Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, Israelis and the United States often complained that Palestinian denunciations of terrorism were not accompanied by measures on the ground to prevent such attacks. Hamas was incapable of even a rhetorical condemnation of Monday’s atrocity, which profaned the Passover season and came hours before the swearing-in of Israel’s new coalition government.

Instead, Hamas spokesman Sami abu Zuhri said the attack outside a fast-food shop was “the natural result of continued Israeli aggression and escalation and can only be considered a form of self-defense.” Morally repellent in themselves, these sentiments raise the question of whether Hamas’ own cessation of terrorist attacks is a temporary expedient or an unnecessary one -- because its allies will continue to kill and maim Israelis.

It is small consolation to Israelis that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Monday’s attack or that Abbas insists that Palestinian security forces are under his control, not Hamas’. Still, even though his influence has been waning, he remains a voice for the two-state solution that even Ariel Sharon came to recognize as the way out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In reacting, as it must, to the attack, Israel must be careful not to marginalize Abbas further.


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