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Archive for Saturday, June 30, 2007

Hamas preacher defies government order

Other clergy heed instructions to stop talking politics in mosques

June 30, 2007

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— A leading Hamas preacher on Friday defied an order by the moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank to stop talking about politics in mosques, instead taunting his Fatah rivals in his weekly sermon.

However, other clergy heeded the call to tone down their rhetoric, part of a campaign to stem Hamas' influence in the West Bank following the Islamic group's violent takeover of Gaza.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad warned Islamic preachers on Thursday that he would not tolerate calls for violence delivered from mosque pulpits and would collect militants' weapons.

At a mosque in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the preacher stuck to generalities, without getting into politics; two police cars were parked outside. And in Jenin, a pro-Hamas preacher was replaced by a clergyman who spoke of the need to support the new Palestinian leadership.

However, Hamas leader Maher Kharas railed against the U.S., Israel and Palestinian moderates in a sermon at a mosque in the old city of Nablus, an area raided by Israeli troops seeking Palestinian militants earlier in the day.

"Israel soldiers invaded Nablus for two days. Where is the government to defend the old city? Where is the government that demanded the dismantling of the armed brigades?" he said. "America will be defeated in Iraq and the believing Muslims will come here victorious."

In 1996, then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat cracked down on Hamas preachers after a series of Hamas suicide bombings in Israel. He monitored them closely and those considered too militant lost their jobs. Kharas was one of them, and only returned to the pulpit last year after Hamas won parliamentary elections.

Kharas said he feared no one and would not change his ways, even if it cost him his job. "All my life, I preached and talked about jihad (holy war)," he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, appealed Friday for an international force for Gaza so the divided Palestinians can hold new elections, and insisted he was determined to isolate the militant Hamas. Abbas was in Paris for talks with newly elected President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Earlier Friday, Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian militant near Nablus.

The army said soldiers saw two armed men getting into a taxi, followed the vehicle, then fired at one of the gunmen who jumped out of the car.

The man, identified by witnesses as Haitham Saleh, 22, of the Balata refugee camp, was a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent offshoot of Abbas' Fatah movement.

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