Hamas leader says ‘no one’ can force it to disarm after unity deal

October 19, 2017 6:54 pm
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Fighters of the armed wing of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas march in the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis on July 20, 2017 © AFP/File / SAID KHATIB

, Gaza City, Palestinian Territory, Occupied, Oct 19 – Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip said Thursday “no one” can force it to disarm or recognise Israel, after Washington demanded it meet those conditions as part of a unity government.

“No one in the universe can disarm us. On the contrary, we will continue to have the power to protect our citizens,” the Islamist movement’s Gaza head Yahya Sinwar said.

“No one has the ability to extract from us recognition of the occupation.”

Sinwar made the remarks during a speech to young people that was provided to AFP by Hamas.

Earlier in the day, a top aide to US President Donald Trump said an emerging Palestinian unity government must recognise Israel and disarm Hamas, Washington’s first detailed response to a landmark reconciliation deal signed last week.

Trump’s special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt, who has repeatedly visited the region to seek ways of restarting peace talks, laid out a series of conditions.

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognise the state of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties -– including to disarm terrorists — and commit to peaceful negotiations,” Greenblatt said in a statement.

Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar (C) arrives for a meeting with Palestinian prime minister and other officials in Gaza City on October 2, 2017 © AFP/File / Said KHATIB

The US conditions were roughly in line with principles previously set out by the Quartet for Middle East peace — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

“If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements,” Greenblatt said.

– ‘Genuine peace’ –

The statement also echoed a response this week by Israel, which vowed not to negotiate with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas unless the Islamist group agrees to a list of demands.

They included recognising Israel and renouncing violence, but also returning the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza, among other conditions.

Netanyahu welcomed Greenblatt’s comments.

“We want a genuine peace, and because of this we will not conduct negotiations with a terrorist organisation in diplomatic disguise,” he said.

Sinwar said of Hamas: “We are freedom fighters and revolutionaries for the freedom of our people. We fight the occupation according to international and humanitarian law.”

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah movement signed a reconciliation deal with Hamas in Cairo a week ago aimed at ending a bitter 10-year split.

Gazans wave the flags of Egypt and Palestine as they celebrate a unity agreement reached in Cairo between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah on October 12, 2017 © AFP / MAHMUD HAMS

The Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organisation has recognised Israel, but Hamas has not and is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008, and the Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli blockade for more than a decade.

Egypt has also kept its border with Gaza largely closed in recent years.

Hamas has run the Gaza Strip since seizing it in a near civil war in 2007 with Fatah, based in the occupied West Bank, following a dispute over elections won by the Islamist movement.

– Gaza humanitarian crisis –

Under the Cairo deal, the Palestinian Authority, currently dominated by Fatah, is due to resume control of the Gaza Strip by December 1.

Talks are also expected on forming a unity government, with another meeting between the various Palestinian political factions scheduled for next month.

Previous attempts at reconciliation have repeatedly failed, and many analysts are treating the latest bid with caution, waiting to see if it will change anything on the ground.

A major sticking point is expected to be Hamas’s refusal to disarm its 25,000-strong armed wing.

Diplomats say it would be possible to form a unity government they could deal with that does not officially include Hamas.

A previous attempt at a unity government in 2014 was made up of technocrats deemed acceptable by the international community, but it fell apart.

Hamas has faced increasing isolation and deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip in recent months, including a severe electricity shortage.

Children do their homework by candlelight during one of the many power cuts that have hit Gaza since the Palestinian Authority reduced payments © AFP/File / MAHMUD HAMS

Abbas has imposed a series of sanctions on the Gaza Strip to pressure the Islamist movement, including cutting electricity payments, which has worsened the power cuts.

Hamas has reached out to Cairo for help, hoping to have the Rafah border with Egypt opened.

In return, Cairo has pressed Hamas to move forward on reconciliation with Fatah.

A US official said Greenblatt “has travelled to Egypt to meet with senior officials about the status of reconciliation.”

Greenblatt said in his statement that “all parties agree that it is essential that the Palestinian Authority be able to assume full, genuine and unhindered civil and security responsibilities in Gaza and that we work together to improve the humanitarian situation for Palestinians living there.”

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