Leaders of the Palestinian factions residing in Damascus agreed to refrain from using weapons to resolve internal problems, and affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to resist the occupation.

Senior Hamas leader, Sheikh Khaled Masha’al said the Palestinian people have the right to resist the occupation and engage in political activities at the same time, media sources reported on Wednesday.

‘So long as our land is occupied it is the right of the Palestinian people and their factions to combine resistance and political activities. Resistance and its arms are directed against the occupation while political activity is part of re-arranging the Palestinian home,’ Masha’al told a press conference after the meeting that joined him with the chair of Fatah, Farouk Qaddoumi and other Palestinian leaders in Damascus on Tuesday.

This meeting came after a firefight between Hamas activists and Palestinian police left three dead.

Masha’al’s statement rejects a strong call by the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for disarming Hamas, before running for the upcoming Palestinian Parliamentary elections slated for January 2006.

Rice has earlier stated that this issue is an internal Palestinian affair, however, this time she reiterated the Israeli stance saying that Hamas cannot remain an armed organization and also participate in the PA political process.

‘Hamas is a terror organization and it has to be disbanded, both for the sake of peace and security in the Middle East and for the sake of the proper functioning of the Palestinian Authority. After all, under the road map, the Palestinian Authority has undertaken to disband militias and armed resistance groups,’ Rice said in an address.