US demands Hamas renounce violence, disarm before unity deal

Trump’s Mideast peace envoy welcomes PA’s return to Gaza, but says terror group must accept ‘basic requirements’ set out by diplomatic Quartet

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Palestinian members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas terror movement, take part in a military parade against Israel in Gaza City, July 25, 2017. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
Palestinian members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas terror movement, take part in a military parade against Israel in Gaza City, July 25, 2017. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

The United States called Thursday for the Hamas terror group to disarm and renounce violence before being allowed to implement a highly touted unity deal with Palestinian rival Fatah, in a first detailed response to the agreement.

In a statement, White House Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt welcomed the Palestinian Authority’s impending return to the Gaza Strip as part of the renewed reconciliation efforts with Hamas, but said it was essential the terrorist group reform and adhere to the principles set out by the so-called Middle East Quartet.

“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,” Greenblatt said in a statement released by the US Embassy in Tel Aviv.

“If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements,” Greenblatt said.

US President Donald Trump’s envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt meets with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 25, 2017. (FLASH90)

The statement came a week after rival Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas signed a landmark unity deal aimed at ending their decade-long split.

In the wake of the agreement, Israel said it would not negotiate with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas unless it complied with the Quartet principles. The security cabinet of senior ministers further demanded the terrorist organization sever all ties to Iran, and return the Israeli civilians and bodies of soldiers being held in Gaza.

Though Israel said it would no longer engage in peace talks until the conditions are met, it did not fully sever ties with the PA.

Greenblatt made a similar statement during talks ahead of the unity deal earlier this month.

“The United States stresses that any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations,” he said on October 2.

Hamas has thus far rejected calls for it to disarm its estimated 25,000 troops in Gaza, even as talks on the unity deal move forward.

A senior Hamas spokesman on Tuesday denied a report that the terrorist group agreed to halt attacks against Israel from the West Bank as part of the reconciliation deal.

“There are no secret clauses in the reconciliation understanding, and what the occupation published on the resistance halting in the West Bank is not true,” said senior Hamas spokesperson Husam Badran, in an interview with the Palestinian news site Quds Network. “The natural situation is that when there is an occupation, there will be a resistance to confront it.”

On Saturday, Israel’s Maariv daily reported that the deal struck between rival Hamas and Fatah on Thursday included a “secret clause” saying that Hamas, a terror group in control of the Gaza Strip, would cease carrying out attacks against Israelis from the West Bank.

On Sunday, London-based Pan-Arab daily As-Sharq al-Awsat also reported that there was an “implicit understanding” between Hamas and Fatah that the terror group would extend its current ceasefire with Israel from Gaza to the West Bank.

While Hamas has for years agreed to a ceasefire against Israel from the Gaza Strip, its West Bank operatives have continued to plan and provoke attacks against Israelis.

Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmad, right, and Saleh al-Arouri, left, of Hamas shake hands after signing a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements ended their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

In remarks in Cairo immediately after the deal was signed last week, the chief Hamas negotiator, Saleh al-Arouri, said Hamas signed the agreement in order that all Palestinian forces can “work together against the Zionist enterprise.”

The latest reconciliation efforts come as US President Donald Trump has sought to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Speaking at a conference of international donors last month, 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.

Dov Lieber contributed to this report.

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