Mahmoud al-Zahar, believed to be the leader of Hamas inside the Palestinian territories, launched the severest-ever verbal attack on the Palestinian Authority, signaling a serious rift over the issue of administering the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the Israeli pullout.
However, a Hamas leader in the West Bank, Sheikh Hassan Yusuf, published a statement saying that Zahar ‘exaggerated in describing [Hamas’] differences of opinion with the Palestinian Authority and Abu Mazen’
In an interview with a local Gaza news agency, Zahar said Hamas was not willing ‘to serve as a fig leaf’ for PA control of Gaza following the disengagement.
He warned that his movement would not give up its weapons and might continue bombarding Israel with mortars and rockets from Gaza after the disengagement, if that proves necessary to liberate the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Zahar’s warnings came as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was engaged in talks with Hamas’s external leadership in Damascus over various PA-Hamas disputes.
‘The Palestinian Authority and Fatah need to know that what they are doing now is playing with fire,’ ZaharÃ‚Â declared. ‘They will bear responsibility for ignoring Hamas and the [other] factions and for their insistence on managing the withdrawal alone. We will not serve as a fig leaf on this matter, nor will we allow it [the PA] to steal the achievements of the street and Hamas – the sacrifice of its [Hamas’] sons and its leadership to liberate the land of Gaza – just so that this land will be distributed to some individual or another.’
Zahar went so far as to hint that Hamas could use force to prevent the PA from running Gaza after Israel’s withdrawal.
‘Just as we did not accept the occupation of the land, we will not allow it to be allocated to anyone who did not play a part in liberating it,’ he said.
‘The PA, which accuses itself day and night of corruption, cannot manage the population,’ he added. ‘They will encounter a determined street if they try to decide by themselves, and Hamas will never work with them’Ã‚Â
Zahar dismissed Abbas’s call for a unity government, saying Hamas will only join a committee comprised of representatives of all the Palestinian factions that is separate from the Palestinian Authority.
Zahar also affirmed that Hamas intends to keep its weapons after the Israeli withdrawal to defend liberated areas.
‘Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem are one geographic unit, and Hamas will not sit quietly in Gaza if it is attacked in the West Bank. Also, who will guarantee that the occupation won’t return to Gaza?’ Zahar asked.
Yet, and most serious, he said that his movement’ weapons serve as the only mean to protect its members against the PA’ Preventive Security Service, which has arrested its members in the past, and against the mukhabarat [secret police], which is gathering intelligence on it.Ã‚Â
‘We will not give our weapons to anyone, and we will not enter the PA’s jails,’ Zahar said.
He also characterized Abbas as ‘a man who can’t be relied on,’, charging that the president had broken numerous agreements with Hamas.
‘Hamas has lost faith in him because he did not carry out what was agreed on with the movement,’ Zahar said