GAZA CITY — The top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip rejected compromise with Israel in a fiery speech Wednesday, a day after gunmen killed four Israelis.

In an address to Hamas members, Gaza strongman Mahmoud Zahar said the movement would resist peace efforts and criticized the Palestinian president for joining the negotiations.

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"Today marks the start of direct negotiations between someone who has no right to represent the Palestinian people and the brutal occupier, to provide a cover for Judaizing Jerusalem and stealing the land," Zahar said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been locked in a fierce rivalry with Hamas since the group seized Gaza from his forces in a violent takeover in 2007, leaving him only in control of the West Bank.

In a swift response to the shooting, Abbas' forces rounded up 250 low and mid-level Hamas supporters throughout the West Bank in what the group said was the largest sweep in recent memory. Hamas officials called the roundup arbitrary and an act of treason.

Abbas and Netanyahu are in Washington for a series of talks aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel within a year. Negotiations are to focus on core issues of the conflict, including the status of east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as capital of their future state but Israel also claims.



Hamas leaders have sharply criticized Abbas in recent days for agreeing to resume negotiations with Israel.

"The enemy of the Palestinian people is the Zionist enemy," Zahar said.

Zahar rejected the idea of compromise with Israel, saying that "liberating" all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River — a reference to Israel's destruction — is a moral and religious duty. He said Palestinians must not abandon armed resistance against Israeli occupation.

Despite Zahar's tough words, it's unclear whether the militants will try to derail the negotiations with more attacks or whether the shooting was an isolated incident.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak wrote in an op-ed piece in The New York Times on Tuesday that reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement is "critical to achieving a two-state solution" and renewed an offer of Egyptian mediation.

Hamas expert Khaled Hroub said the group would keep acting as a spoiler if it is not accommodated.

"You have to engage with Hamas — not because you like or dislike them," Hroub said. "Because, pragmatically these are the people who can deliver."

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