Hamas said prepared to place its weapons under PLO’s control if it can join

After months of stalled talks with rival Fatah, Gaza-based terror group now bidding to become part of main Palestinian leadership, Al-Hayat reports

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) and Hamas's leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar wave during a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Islamist terror movement, in Gaza City, on December 14, 2017. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) and Hamas's leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar wave during a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Islamist terror movement, in Gaza City, on December 14, 2017. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Hamas has tentatively agreed to hand over its weapons to the Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organization, provided it can become part of the PLO and of the overall Palestinian government, according to a report in the Al-Hayat newspaper Friday. There was no confirmation of the report.

The London-based Arabic newspaper reported that a senior Hamas official in Ramallah said that the terror group would agree to disarm if it can gain PLO representation.

The paper, which cited unnamed sources in Gaza, said Hamas was prepared to place its weaponry under PLO control, provided it had a key role in that leadership, and had clarified this position to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Al-Hayat linked the new approach to US President Donald Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that it said set the stage for what the terrorist organization may view as a new bid to become part of the internationally recognized Palestinian political system.

Only a month ago Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar said that the Palestinian reconciliation process was failing over the issue of the future of the terror group’s armed forces.

In an official statement Thursday, Hamas spokesman Husam Badran said his organization had received an invitation to attend the PLO Central Council scheduled for January 14. At the same time, the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the PLO, Saeb Erekat, said that decisions made by the council will be “fateful.”

Masked operatives from the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, a military wing of the Hamas terror group, ride vehicles as they commemorate the 30th anniversary of their group, in Gaza City, December 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The Friday Al-Hayat report seems at odds with a recent statement made by Hamas deputy political leader Saleh al-Arouri, who told Al Jazeera that his movement had no intention to hand over its weapons to the Palestinian Authority. Israeli news outlet Walla speculated that this may highlight a dispute between the local heads of Hamas and those governing the terror group from outside Gaza.

According to the Al-Hayat report, the move to join the PLO is a strategic change led by Sinwar, who is determined to bring about a reconciliation deal with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. His decision was reinforced by Trump’s announcement, and he reportedly now sees unity as essential for the future of the Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority is accountable to the PLO Executive Committee. The PLO is made up of several factions, with Fatah, led by Abbas, as the largest group. Neither Hamas nor Islamic Jihad are currently members of either the PLO or the PA.

Hamas’s new deputy leader Salah al-Arouri (seated L) and Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmad (seated R) sign a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements work to end their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP Photo/Khaled Desouki)

An Egyptian-brokered agreement in early October originally set a December 1 deadline for the terror group to fully transfer power in the Gaza Strip back to the Palestinian Authority, but that deadline was repeatedly extended.

Since the start of the latest round of reconciliation talks between the rival Palestinian factions — several others have failed in the past — the question over the fate of Hamas’s 25,000-strong military wing has been a thorny issue between the sides.

In October, Sinwar first floated the idea of unifying Hamas’s armed forces with Fatah’s under the PLO umbrella.

“As a nation, we are still in the throes of our national liberation efforts, and we cannot surrender our weapons,” he was quoted as saying by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, before adding: “Our weapons must be under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization.”

But he conditioned the move on Fatah returning to its old strategy of armed struggle against Israel.

The PA announced on Wednesday that it had agreed to restore payments for electricity in Gaza, six months after halting them.

The electricity payments have been a key issue in ongoing efforts at reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah, but they have yet to take effect.

Hamas claimed earlier in December that it had handed over control of all government ministries, but Fatah’s top negotiator later said “obstacles” remained.

Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Israel, has fought three wars with Israel since seizing power from Fatah in the enclave in 2007.

Dov Lieber and AFP contributed to this report.

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