Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas said on Monday that it will not lay down its weapons or "pay any political price" as part of any cease-fire agreement with Israel.
"We benefit from the truce," senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar was quoted as telling the online newspaper Al-Khaleej Online. "Our weapons will remain in our hands and there are no conditions regarding Hamas's right to [continue] the resistance. The truce does not require a political price [from Hamas] and it is not part of the deal of the century."
The "deal of the century" refers to US President Donald Trump's yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East.
Zahar's statement came in response to claims by Palestinian Authority and Fatah
officials to the effect that any cease-fire agreement between Hamas and Israel would pave the way for the implementation of Trump's unseen plan which, they charge, is aimed at "liquidating" the Palestinian cause. PA President Mahmoud Abbas and some of his top officials in Ramallah claimed in the past few days that efforts to reach a cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas were also aimed at separating the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.
The proposed truce is "just a humanitarian step for the sake of the people of Gaza," Zahar said.
According to Zahar, some progress was achieved during the truce discussions that took place in Cairo last week between representatives of various Palestinian factions and Egyptian intelligence officials. He said that progress was especially made regarding easing travel restrictions imposed on the residents of the Gaza Strip. He pointed out that the Rafah terminal along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt has been open for the past few weeks.
The Hamas official said that efforts were now focused on reaching a deal regarding the establishment of a seaport in Cyprus that would be used for shipping goods and passengers to the Gaza Strip.
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The Palestinian faction leaders returned to the Gaza Strip on Sunday. They are expected to head back to Cairo after the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha
, which ends on Friday, to continue the discussions over a truce agreement with Israel.
Zahar said that the issue of a prisoner exchange between his movement and Israel was being negotiated separately from the truce talks. He stressed that Hamas was continuing to demand that Israel first release all former prisoners who were released in the 2011 Gilad Schalit deal, but have since been rearrested by Israel.
Musa Abu Marzouk, another senior Hamas official, also reiterated on Monday his movement's refusal to disarm as part of an truce deal with Israel. He said that he found it "strange" that Abbas and his ruling Fatah faction have joined the US and Israel in demanding that Hamas disarm and hand control of the Gaza Strip to the Ramallah-based PA government.
Hamas and other Gaza-based factions criticized Abbas for refusing to lift the sanctions he had imposed on the Gaza Strip a year ago. The sanctions include, among other things, halting payments to thousands of civil servants and forcing thousands others into early retirement.
Last weekend, Abbas told PLO delegates in Ramallah that he will not continue to serve as "an ATM machine" for the Gaza Strip as long as Hamas refuses to allow the PA government to assume its full responsibilities in the coastal enclave.
Khaled Abu Hilal, leader of the Al-Ahrar terror group in the Gaza Strip, said on Monday that the position of Abbas and his government towards the Palestinians reflects their "bad intentions." Abbas and the Palestinian Authority want the blockade on the Gaza Strip to continue," he charged. "They share [former Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin's wish that the Gaza Strip would drown in the sea."
Abu Hilal and leaders of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) said that despite the continued efforts by Egypt, the United Nations and other parties to reach a truce agreement with Israel, the weekly protests along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel would continue.
Khaled al-Batsh, a senior PIJ official, warned the Palestinians against being "deceived" by the UN's "candied talk" about a truce and humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. "We still haven't reached any results," he said, referring to the discussions that took place in the Egyptian capital last week. "We must be prepared for all possibilities, including a potential [Israeli] aggression on our people in the Gaza Strip."
Fatah spokesman Osama Qawassmeh scoffed at Hamas's claim that it was not being required to pay any political price in return for a truce with Israel. He described the claim as "lies and nonsense" and said Palestinians don't buy this argument.
Qawassmeh, like other PA and Fatah officials, again claimed that any deal between Hamas and Israel would be seen in the context of Trump's upcoming plan "to undermine the PLO and prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian state."
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat on Monday again repeated his claim that any deal between Hamas and Israel would "destroy the Palestinian national project." He also repeated his charge that Israel and the US were seeking to separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank by striking a separate deal between Hamas and Israel. "Hamas will bear historic responsibility for aborting the Palestinian national project if it signs an agreement with Israel," Erekat cautioned. "The Gaza Strip is an integral part of our homeland, and Hamas needs to realize that Israel and the US want to exclude the two million residents of the Gaza Strip [from a future political settlement]."
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