Hamas says it won’t even discuss giving up weapons if PA takes over Gaza
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Hamas says it won’t even discuss giving up weapons if PA takes over Gaza

In 51 minutes, Hamas 'can hit Tel Aviv with as many rockets as fired in 51 days of last war,' terror group's Gaza chief Sinwar boasts

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, attend a memorial in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on January 31, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, attend a memorial in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on January 31, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

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.

Also on Thursday, Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar claimed the terror group’s ability to target the center of Israel with rocket fire had significantly increased since the last war between Israel and Hamas in 2014. He added that the elusive commander of the terror group’s military wing, Muhammad Deif, supports the reconciliation attempt.

“This issue [of Hamas disarming] is not up for discussion, not previously and neither will it be in the future,” Abu Marzouk said in an 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.”

Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, September 18, 2014. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

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.

That 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.

(From L to R) Palestinian Fatah delegation chief Azzam al-Ahmad, Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk pose for a photo as they celebrate in Gaza City on April 23, 2014, after West Bank and Gaza Strip leaders agreed to form a unity government within five weeks. (photo credit: AFP/Said Khatib)

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 Sinwar, in remarks given during a closed meeting with journalists that were later published by Palestinian media outlets.

“The page of the previous stage must be turned over, and we must move into the future to build our national project,” he added.

Hamas military wing commander Muhammad Deif (courtesy)

Sinwar also boasted about improvements in Hamas’s military capabilities to strike Israel’s densely populated Tel Aviv region.

“In 51 minutes the Qassam Brigades can hit Tel Aviv with the same number of rockets that it fired during 51 days in the last” war, said Sinwar, During that war, Hamas fired thousands of rockets at Israel, a small percentage of which made it to the Tel Aviv area.

In a surprising statement, Sinwar said that Deif, the leader of the Qassam Brigades — who is wanted by Israel for multiple acts of terrorism including the orchestration of suicide bombings, and who Israel has tried to kill numerous times — 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.”

US President Donald Trump reaches to shake Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s hand before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski)

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,” Greenblatt said, accusing Hamas of using money meant for Gaza’s civilian population on terror infrastructure.

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