Hamas collects arms from militants in northern Gaza

The Hamas military wing, Iz al-Din al-Qassam, has recently finished registering and collecting weapons used by its activists in the northern Gaza Strip, a process sources said began at the order of the Hamas political bureau, after Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections last month.

The Palestinian and foreign sources said weapons collection in the central and southern parts of Gaza was hindered by fighting between Fatah and Hamas activists. The weapons that were collected have been transferred to Hamas military wing leaders in Gaza. Meanwhile, Fatah is trying to fortify its position in the Palestinian Authority. In its last session, the outgoing parliament passed a new law Monday that significantly expands the powers of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The law authorizes Abbas to appoint judges to a new constitutional court that will serve as an arbitrator in disputes between the PA chairman and the government and parliament. The judges are expected to be Fatah members or Palestinians identified with the movement. Since the court will have the final word, the law strengthens Abbas’ rule in relation to a Hamas-led government. Hamas sources, meanwhile, said the weapons collection was an attempt to show the West that Hamas is succeeding in enforcing internal discipline. Some also see the move as a step toward the possibility that a future government will decide to extend the period of „calm,” in which Palestinian organizations agree to refrain from attacking Israeli targets, and to collect weapons from all the armed Palestinian groups. However, other sources said the arms collection is the first step in unifying all armed Palestinian factions under one body, which will be under the jurisdiction of a future Hamas government. The unified factions are meant to constitute a counterweight to the PA security services, which will, for the most part, be under Abbas’ jurisdiction. The weapons collection comes in the wake of several moderate statements made by Hamas leaders recently in an effort to make the Hamas victory more acceptable in the eyes of the West. The most recent such comments came Monday, when a Russian newspaper published an interview with the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Meshal, who was quoted as discussing, for the first time, the possibility that Hamas will disarm. Meshal also recognized the 1967 borders, despite the Hamas position that Palestine’s borders are the river and the sea. „If Israel recognizes our rights and pledges to withdraw from all occupied lands, Hamas, and the Palestinian people together with it, will decide to halt armed resistance,” Meshal told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Meshal also criticized the roadmap, saying Hamas is not obligated to adhere to the Quartet-backed peace plan. He said no one was carrying out the roadmap demands and that the Palestinians need not do so. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas has stopped holding armed parades following Palestinian criticism after an explosion killed 20 Palestinians during a Hamas parade in the Jabalya refugee camp in September. The explosion took place aboard a truck carrying Qassam rockets in the midst of the parade. Hamas established an internal inquiry committee, which imposed limitations on the military wing’s activities. The limitations have been bolstered since Hamas’ victory in the elections. Hamas leader rejects int’l pressure to disarm, touts reform A Hamas leader Monday not to bow to American threats to cut aid if it does not disarm, saying the movement did not need „satanic” U.S. money. Mahmoud Zahar also addressed Hamas’ much-anticipated social and economic agenda, saying the group intended to fight corruption, eliminate the „tourism of nudity” and use education to promote a culture of resistance. But, aware of the political realities in the Palestinian territories, Zahar said Hamas had no intention to force Islam on Palestinians or to settle scores with its rivals. „Those who built their structure on the basis of the Quran…cannot budge because of promises from America or a dollar from Europe,” Zahar told a Cairo conference. „I wish America would cut off its aid. We do not need this satanic money,” he said. Since Hamas’ victory in last month’s parliamentary elections, Western nations have threatened to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in badly needed aid unless the group, which is responsible for dozens of suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis, transforms itself. Hamas was expected to lead a new government. „America and Europe tried to dry up the funding of the ‘terrorist’ Hamas that is spent on the families of the martyrs and the detainees, but it (Hamas) has only increased,” he said. Such money comes from almsgiving, he said. He argued that most of the outside aid money was eaten up by corruption under Fatah and lost funds could be made up by removing corrupt officials and turning to Arab donors. He ruled out making compromises to keep the money coming. „Recognizing the state of the Israeli enemy is not on the table,” he said. „Our program is to liberate Palestine, all of Palestine,” he said. „The Qassam Brigades will continue to increase in numbers, supplies and weapons…until the liberation is completed,” he said of the group’s military wing. He added that Hamas can develop the capabilities of its missiles. „Anyone who thinks the calm means giving in is mistaken. The calm is in preparation for a new round of resistance and victory,” he said. „If the enemy has something to offer we will study it, but we will not abide by a truce that is for free.” Hamas abided by an Egyptian-brokered truce between the Palestinians and Israel, and has continued to forgo militant attacks beyond the agreement’s expiration late last year. He also again rejected the 1993 Oslo peace accords under which the Palestinians recognized Israel and set up the Palestinian Authority. „We are entering (parliament) to eliminate any traces of Oslo,” he said. But Zahar called for making a distinction between bestowing legitimacy on Israel and recognizing the facts on the ground. He left the door open for possible future talks with Israel through a third party. „Negotiations are not our goal,” he said. „Negotiations are a means. If they realize the best interest of the Palestinian people, then we will find a thousand mediators…to negotiate,” he said. He also talked about Hamas’s social and economic vision, which critics charge is vague and could limit freedoms. „Education will be a program of resistance,” Zahar said. „Tourism will not be a tourism of nudity, alcohol and casinos,” he said, speaking instead of a „tourism of resistance” that will attract Muslims and Arabs. He said Palestinians should promote small industries, attract investments and separate „the economy from the Israeli enemy.” To fight corruption, he said Hamas wants to eliminate about 37,000 „imaginary jobs” in the Fatah-dominated security services – a possibly explosive prospect. He said no one would be fired as a matter of revenge. „The sons of Fatah or any other fshould not be afraid because we will not do anyone injustice. Each of them should know that his blood, money and honor are safe,” he said. Addressing worries the movement will impose hardline interpretations of Islam, Zahar said: „We will not force the religion on anyone or, as they claim, make them wear veils.” Zahar argued that Hamas’ ascension to power will usher in „a golden age” for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. „The man wants reform,” Zahar said of Abbas. „We will cooperate with him in all possible ways.” Zahar’s comments were frequently interrupted by applause and chants hailing Hamas. The audience – the men sitting on one side of the room and the women, almost all veiled, on the other – also sang religious songs glorifying jihad.