Hamas chief suggests including militants in army
Published: Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 28, 2006 at 9:18 p.m.
RAMALLAH, West Bank - The leader of Hamas suggested Saturday that the Islamic group could create a Palestinian army that would include its militant wing - responsible for scores of deadly attacks on Israelis - in the aftermath of its crushing victory in parliamentary elections.
Israeli officials condemned the plan, demanding that Hamas renounce violence. Palestinian security officers, including loyalists from the defeated Fatah Party, said they would never submit to Hamas control.
"Hamas has no power to meddle with the security forces," said Jibril Rajoub, a Palestinian strongman.
The Hamas chief, Khaled Mashaal, reiterated that Hamas would not recognize Israel and indicated attacks on Israeli civilians would continue as long as Israel continued to target Palestinian civilians. "As long as we are under occupation then resistance is our right," he said.
Angry police stormed the parliament building in Gaza and armed militants marched into Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' compound in Ramallah to demonstrate their rejection of Hamas' authority. Their defiance raised fears of a spike in violence between Palestinian factions.
Clashes have already broken out between the two sides. Hamas gunmen wounded two policemen in Gaza early Saturday in what authorities said was a roadside ambush. The attack came hours after another firefight wounded a Hamas activist and two police officers, one of whom was in a coma Saturday.
Hamas won 74 out of 132 seats in parliamentary elections Wednesday to Fatah's 45. The militant group's victory threw the fate of international aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority in doubt and darkened the chances for a peace deal with Israel.
Speaking from his base in Damascus, Syria, Mashaal insisted his group would not disarm and said Hamas' military wing, estimated at nearly 5,000 gunmen in Gaza alone, could be merged into a Palestinian army.
"We are ready to unify the weapons of Palestinian factions, with Palestinian consensus, and form an army like any independent state," he said.
Israeli officials demanded that Hamas look for peaceful solutions to the conflict.
"If Hamas wants to be considered a partner in peace, it's very clear what it has to do. It has to renounce terrorism, disarm, accept Israel's right to exist and support political solutions to issues rather than pursuing violent jihad," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.
Mashaal also said Hamas would abide by existing agreements with the country "as long as it is in the interest of our people."
Israel and the Palestinians have a host of agreements dealing with everything from administration to peace frameworks. Mashaal did not say which agreements he was referring to.
Israeli officials have said repeatedly that they would not deal with Hamas, and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Israel would not rule out targeted killings against Hamas leaders if they attack Israel. Israeli airstrikes in 2004 killed Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and his successor Abdel Aziz Rantisi.
"Whoever stands at the head of a terror organization and continues to carry out terror attacks against Israel is not immune," Mofaz told Israel's Channel 2 television.
Hamas' victory shocked Fatah, which dominated Palestinian politics for four decades. Abbas ordered an investigation into why his party lost so badly.
Marwan Barghouti, the jailed Palestinian uprising leader who was Fatah's top candidate and led efforts to reform the party, appealed for Fatah to hold a general conference to elect fresh leadership, according to a statement released by his wife, Fadwa.
He also congratulated Hamas and said Fatah would peacefully transfer power.
"We will respect the democratic process and its results and help those who won the confidence of our people," he said.
But many in the 58,000-member security force were less conciliatory and rejected any Hamas control.
"The security institution is a red line. We will not allow anyone to tamper with it," Gaza police chief Ala Hosni said. "It will remain a powerful and impartial arm that carries out the decisions of the presidency (Abbas) and that stops any infighting or civil war."
Dozens of armed police officers briefly stormed the parliament building in Gaza City, demanding the security forces remain in Fatah's hands and calling for Hamas members who killed police in fighting in recent months to be brought to justice.
In Ramallah, hundreds of Fatah activists, including gunmen and security officers, marched into Abbas' compound and prayed at the grave of Yasser Arafat.
"We came to you Abu Amar to forgive us for what happened," they chanted, referring to Arafat by his nickname.
Abbas' security force prevented the activists from approaching his office. Militants outside the walled compound shot in the air.
"We'll show them hell as an opposition, and we will turn the Palestinian Authority security forces into armed militia led by Al Aqsa," Ramzi Obeidi, a leader of the Fatah-allied Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, told the crowd.
Other Fatah activists staged angry protests throughout the West Bank, including in Nablus.
"We are now no longer part of the cease-fire," an Al Aqsa gunman, Nasser Haras, told the crowd, referring to a year-old truce with Israel.
In Tulkarem, gunman Ibrahim Khreisheh warned against cooperating with Hamas. "Whoever will participate in a government with Hamas, we will shoot him in the head," he said.
Abbas has said he would ask Hamas to form the next government and Hamas officials said they wanted to meet him Sunday. Hamas, with no experience in government, reached out to Fatah to form a coalition, but Fatah officials said they preferred to be in opposition.
Outlining his group's plan for the future, Mashaal said it would work to reform the corruption-riddled Palestinian Authority and continue its resistance to Israel.
In a move likely to anger Israel, Mashaal said Hamas would release Ahmed Saadat, leader of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He is being held at a Palestinian jail under Western supervision for ordering the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister in 2001.
President Bush told "CBS Evening News" on Friday that the United States would cut aid to the Palestinian government unless Hamas, which the U.S. lists as a terror group, abolishes its militant wing and stops calling for Israel's destruction.
Speaking at the World Forum in Davos, Switzerland, former President Clinton suggested Saturday that the West should be more open to eventual talks with Hamas.
"You've got to find a way to at least open doors ... and I don't see how we can do it without more contact," he said. Hamas might "acquire a greater sense of responsibility, and as they do, we have to be willing to act on that."
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