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Hamas 'ready for truce talks'

GAZA CITY: Hamas will accept a ceasefire that is limited to the Gaza Strip, dropping its long-standing demand that the West Bank be included in any halt in fighting with Israel, senior representatives of the group said yesterday.

Hamas legislator Salah Bardawil said the group is now ready for a ceasefire that "will begin in Gaza, and then move to the West Bank" sometime in the future.

The move marked a significant concession by Hamas as Egyptian mediators try to halt fighting between Palestinian militants and the Israeli army in Gaza.

However, Israeli officials said they saw no change in policy by Hamas that would justify opening a dialogue with them.

Earlier in the day, Israeli troops killed three Palestinian gunmen in the northern part of Gaza Strip near a border crossing with Israel.

Islamic Jihad and a group belonging to the Fatah faction said three of their fighters were killed while trying to attack an army base near the Erez crossing.

In another development, officials warned that the sole power plant in the Gaza Strip would shut down within 30 hours if Israel does not resume fuel shipments to the isolated territory.

Former US president Jimmy Carter said that exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal had told him the the movement would accept a peace deal if it was approved in a Palestinian vote.

However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Carter failed in his attempt to talk Hamas into accepting a future two-state peace deal with Israel.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also criticised Carter and said the talks would not help the Palestinians reach a peace accord with the Israelis.

Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama said Carter's meetings with Hamas leaders were a "bad idea".



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