Hamas continues to believe in its right to “armed struggle” against Israel but will coordinate all political, diplomatic and military activity with other Palestinian factions, the movement’s leader said this weekend.

Khaled Mashaal, the group’s Damascus-based politburo chief, told The Wall Street Journal on Friday that “negotiations with Israel, domestic governance, foreign affairs, domestic security and resistance and other field activities” against Israel would all be conducted in consensus with Fatah and other, smaller, Palestinian factions.

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“How to manage the resistance, what’s the best way to achieve our goals, when to escalate and when to cease fire, now we have to agree on all those decisions as Palestinians,” Mashaal told the paper after signing a national unity agreement with Fatah.

Ahead of Wednesday’s signing ceremony, Nabil Sha’ath, an associate of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas,told the Journal he believes Hamas is moving toward a strategy of nonviolent resistance, at least for now.

“They accept nonviolent resistance. That’s what Mashaal said in closed meetings,” Sha’ath said. “He said, ‘We cannot do violence and you do nonviolence. It does not work out.’” An Israeli official dismissed the Mashaal interview and said there was nothing new in it.

“Hamas remains stuck in its extremist positions refusing to recognize Israel, refusing to renounce terrorism and refusing to support peace. What Mashaal is basically saying is that if Israel will be stupid enough to give the West Bank to Hams, they will continue to attack Israel from the West Bank,” the official said.

On Saturday, Hamas authorities broke up a rally of dozens of Salafists protesting in Gaza City’s main square against the killing of Osama bin Laden. Protesters chanted, “We warn you America, we warn you Europe,” carried pictures of the al-Qaida leader and waved banners reading, “We are all your soldiers, Osama” and “Osama is alive inside us.”

Last week, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, denounced bin Laden’s killing as an assassination “of an Arab holy warrior.”

Analysts told Reuters that Haniyeh may have been trying to cool tensions with Salafist groups, who call for a fundamentalist version of Islam based on the faith as followed by its founders and consider Hamas too moderate.

Hamas police forces cordoned off the square in Gaza City, stopped protesters from marching through the streets and ordered them to leave.

In Israel, government ministers reacted to the Palestinian reconciliation deal with unease.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel would not accept a “terrorist Palestinian government” that on the one hand speaks of peace, and on the other continues to use money transferred to it by Israel to attack the Jewish state.

Steinitz told Israel Radio on Friday that all factions within the PA government, including Hamas, must accept the conditions set by the Quartet of Middle East negotiators, including the renunciation of violence. To that end, Abbas must meet his obligation to dismantle the rocket- launching apparatus in Gaza, Steinitz said.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz warned of the dangers of the unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood planned for September.

“The unilateral establishment of a Palestinian state with Hamas will strengthen Iran’s foothold in the region,” Katz said on Friday while visiting the home of the Fogel family in the Itamar settlement.

On March 11, Palestinian terrorists murdered five members of the family, including two small boys and a three-monthold girl, as they slept in their home.

“Hamas and its leaders are the only ones in the world who criticized the killing of Osama bin Laden. We do not need to be in contact with such an organization,” Katz said.

Abbas will soon visit the Gaza Strip for the first time in four years, to negotiate a prisoner swap between the two factions, Army Radio reported, quoting the Palestinian Al-Quds newspaper.

The PA president has not set foot in the coastal territory since Hamas seized power there in 2007.

Masked gunmen shot and killed a man in the West Bank whom they believed to be a collaborator with Israel, Reuters reported on Saturday, quoting medical and security sources.

Muhammad Khawaldi, 30, was shot in the Jalazone refugee camp 7 km. north of Ramallah, his body riddled with bullets, they said.

A PA security source said Khawaldi worked for Israeli intelligence and was a wanted man.

Palestinian security did not know the identity of the killers and has begun an investigation, the source said.

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