Hamas chief says armed wing should be under PLO control

While insisting that ‘we cannot surrender our weapons,’ Yahya Sinwar says those arms should be used against Israel, not to stoke internal Palestinian conflict

Hamas's leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar waves as he arrives for a meeting  with Palestinian prime minister and other officials in Gaza City October 2, 2017. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)
Hamas's leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar waves as he arrives for a meeting with Palestinian prime minister and other officials in Gaza City October 2, 2017. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Hamas will not dismantle its military wing, the terror organization’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, said on Tuesday. But he added that Hamas’s weapons should be subject to the authority of the Palestine Liberation Organization, an organization dominated by the rival Fatah group.

“As a nation, we are still in the throes of our national liberation efforts, and we cannot surrender our weapons,” Sinwar 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.”

“The weapons of the Qassam Brigades [Hamas’s military wing] belong to the Palestinian people,” and are meant “to be used for the liberation effort, and not for internal conflict,” said Sinwar.

He added that the Palestinian Authority would be taking charge of all the border crossings of the Gaza Strip at noon on October 31.

The terror group has expressed interest in unifying military efforts under the Palestinian umbrella group — if Fatah readopts a strategy of armed struggle against Israel. Should Hamas join the PLO, it could reshape the organization’s makeup, weakening Fatah’s hold and bolstering its own presence.

Hamas has been under pressure to give up its weapons ever since the reconciliation talks became public in September. Last Thursday, Sinwar seemed to rule out any loss of control over the group’s 25,000-strong armed force and its weapons arsenal, saying that “disarming us is like Satan dreaming of heaven. No one can take away our weapons.”

Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, stage an anti-Israel parade as part of the celebrations marking the first anniversary of an Israeli army operation in Gaza, November 14, 2013 (photo credit: Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

Tuesday’s comments diverged slightly from his earlier position.

Sinwar also said Tuesday that Hamas would “burn all the bridges” that led to the reconciliation agreement “so that we will not retreat from it. National reconciliation must take place.”

That comment, too, appeared to be a change from his statement last week that the talks could collapse. “There is a danger to the reconciliation project,” Sinwar was quoted as saying on Thursday, though he did not elaborate.

Sinwar’s new comments may be a sign of the pressure the group has faced since signing the agreement in Cairo to allow the PA to take full control of the Gaza. The PA was kicked out of the enclave 10 years ago by Hamas in a violent conflict.

Hamas’s new deputy leader Salah al-Aruri (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)

Speaking immediately after signing the deal earlier this month, Saleh al-Arouri, the Hamas deputy political leader, said Palestinian unity was vital “so that we can all work together against the Zionist enterprise.”

Arouri also headed a Hamas delegation that traveled to Iran last week. During the visit, Tehran officials praised the terror group for not abandoning its war against Israel and vowed to bolster its support.

But in recent days, PA president and Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly told officials in closed-door meetings that he intended to collect Hamas’s weapons and unite all Palestinian armed forces under the umbrella of the PA, something Hamas has resisted. Abbas said that doing so would take time, Israel Radio reported.

Both the Israeli and US governments have demanded that Hamas surrender its weapons, renounce violence, and recognize Israel.

Fighters from the Izz-a-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Hamas terror group, attend a memorial service for a commander killed in an apparently accidental explosion in the southern Gaza Strip on June 10, 2017. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Two weeks ago, White House Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt released a statement saying that “any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognize the State of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties – including to disarm terrorists – and commit to peaceful negotiations.”

“If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements,” Greenblatt said, in comments later commended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sinwar’s Tuesday comments followed his insistence last Thursday that his group would not acquiesce to Israeli demands that it recognize the Jewish state, saying the terror organization is instead debating “when to wipe out Israel.”

At a closed roundtable discussion between Sinwar and Gazan youth about the ongoing reconciliation negotiations with Fatah, to which some media outlets were invited, Sinwar said, “The time when Hamas would discuss recognizing Israel is over. Now Hamas will discuss when we will wipe out Israel.”

His comments were reported by the Hamas-linked news agency Shehab.

A Hamas spokesperson released a few official quotes from the meeting. The Sinwar comment about wiping Israel out was not included in the transcript, which featured the Hamas leader again rejecting disarmament and Israel recognition.

“No one in the universe can disarm us. On the contrary, we will continue to have the power to protect our citizens,” Sinwar said, according to the official statement. “No one has the ability to extract from us recognition of the occupation.”

Since its inception nearly three decades ago, Hamas has sought to destroy the State of Israel.

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