(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)
Senior Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk said on Thursday that the Gaza-based terror group is not prepared to discuss the dissolution of its military wing during talks with the Fatah party, as the two sides attempt to form a unity government.
At the same time, Hamas Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar said the elusive commander of the terror group’s military wing, Muhammad Deif, supports the reconciliation attempt.
“This issue is not up for discussion, not previously and neither will it be in the future,” Abu Marzouk said in a long interview with the semi-official Turkish news agency Al-Andalous. “The weapons of the resistance are for the protection of the Palestinian people, and it is inconceivable that Hamas will lay down its weapons as long as its land is occupied and its people dispersed.”
Fatah and Hamas have been at loggerheads since Hamas violently took control of the Strip in 2007, with the two groups operating separate administrations.
Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has a reported 27,000 armed men divided into six regional brigades, with 25 battalions and 106 companies.
It has fought three conflicts with Israel since the terror group took control of Gaza.
Hamas announced earlier this month that it had agreed to steps toward resolving the split with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, announcing it would dissolve a body seen as a rival government — known as the administrative committee — and was ready to hold elections.
The statement came after Hamas leaders held talks with Egyptian officials and as Gaza faces a mounting humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by retaliatory moves by Abbas following Hamas’s decision to set up the administrative committee to govern the enclave in March.
While Abbas welcomed Hamas’s dissolution of the administrative committee, he didn’t commit to removing PA sanctions on the Strip.
PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah is slated to travel to Gaza on Monday to begin reinstating the PA’s control over the Strip.
Reconciliation attempts between the two sides have failed numerous times, and one of the biggest sticking points has been who will control the border and security in the Gaza Strip.
Abu Marzouk also said in his comments on Thursday that Hamas would not be willing to accede to the demands of the so-called Middle East Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union, and United Nations — that it renounce terrorism and agree to accept past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which is the largest Palestinian political umbrella group.
Despite refusing to give up its military, Hamas on Thursday reiterated that it is completely committed to the idea of a unity government.
“Hamas will not remain a party to the division in any way,” said Hamas Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar in remarks given during a closed meeting with journalists and later published by a Hamas spokesperson, adding that he won’t allow anyone to foil the reconciliation plans.
“The page of the previous stage must be turned over, and we must move into the future to build our national project,” he said.
In a surprising statement, Sinwar said that Deif, the leader of the Qassam Brigades, Deif, who Israel has tried unsuccessfully to kill numerous times and whose condition has been unknown since the 2014 summer war with Israel, is “strongly supportive” of the reconciliation efforts.
US ‘withdrew veto’ against Palestinian reconciliation
In his statements on Thursday, Abu Marzouk claimed Hamas was informed that the US was ending its opposition to a Hamas-Fatah unity government.
“We received information from sources of our own, and other Western diplomats, confirming that the United States has lifted its veto on Palestinian reconciliation,” he said.
The Hamas leader said the removal of American opposition grants Abbas “the space to take a bold step to end Palestinian division, as America formed a primary obstacle.”
On Thursday the Quartet, of which the US is a part, welcomed the PA’s impending return to the Gaza Strip as part of renewed reconciliation efforts with the Hamas.
It said renewed PA control over Gaza “is critical for efforts to reach lasting peace.”
The latest reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas come as US President Donald Trump has sought to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and met separately with Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week.
In apparent contradiction of Abu Marzouk’s statement, last week, Trump’s Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt slammed Hamas’s rule in the Gaza Strip and called on the PA to retake control of Gaza and urged the international community to help this process come to fruition.
“Relief from the suffering in Gaza can only be found when all interested parties gather together to help the Palestinian people and isolate Hamas,” he said, accusing Hamas of using money meant for Gaza’s civilian population on terror infrastructure.