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Archive for Sunday, January 29, 2006

Hamas leader says militants could join army

January 29, 2006

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— 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 already have broken out between the two sides. Hamas gunmen wounded two policemen early Saturday in Gaza 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 said on 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.

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