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Hamas said on Sunday that it is "fully prepared" to repel an Israeli military invasion of the Gaza Strip.
Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan said in response to reports that Israel was planning a major operation in the Gaza Strip, "Hamas and the Palestinian people are fully prepared for the next battle with the Israeli enemy. Our response will be painful because our men are prepared for jihad and martyrdom. Hamas remains committed to jihad as a strategic option for liberating all of Palestine. This enemy understands only the language of force and we will teach them an unforgettable lesson."
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Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders on Sunday condemned as "discriminatory" a European Union decision to deal only with non-Hamas members of the new Palestinian government and called on the international community to resume financial aid to the Palestinians.
Two members of the Palestinian unity government, Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr and Finance Minister Salaam Fayad, have been invited to visit France and Belgium for talks on ways of channeling funds to the Palestinians. The two, who joined the coalition as independents, will be the first ministers to visit Europe since Hamas came to power in January 2006.
Muhammad Awad, secretary-general of the Palestinian government, said the two ministers would be traveling to Europe only after receiving a green light from Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.
"Their talks in Europe will be held on the instructions of Prime Minister Haniyeh," he said. "We urge the international community not to discriminate between members of the government. This government comprises representatives of most of the Palestinian factions."
Awad said the new government's policy was based on the principle that all Palestinians must be united in the face of external pressure.
He said the government was keen on expanding its ties with the international community, noting that not all the EU countries agreed with the decision to boycott Hamas ministers.
"We want the Europeans to stop distinguishing between one minister and another," he added. "We all belong to the same government and there is no difference between us."
Palestinian Authority Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti also voiced opposition to the EU decision. He said all ministers were equal and members of one team, regardless of their political affiliations.
The government's platform, he said, represented all ministers and the government viewed a meeting with any minister as a meeting with the rest of the cabinet. All the ministers presented reports about their meetings to the cabinet, he added.
Minister of Planning Samir Abu Eishah of Hamas urged the EU to establish relations with all the PA ministers, saying the Palestinians have chosen the path of "national unity." The EU decision was the first step in the right direction, he said.
"But it's not enough," he added. "How can anyone deal with certain members of a government and ignore others?"
A top Hamas official in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post that the EU decision was "aimed at driving a wedge between the Palestinians by classifying them as moderates and radicals."
This decision, he warned, would only increase tensions and deepen divisions among the Palestinians.
"The Europeans are in fact supporting the policy of the Zionist enemy by ignoring the will of the Palestinian people," he said. "This decision will not help the case of stability; on the contrary, it will lead to further escalation and deterioration."
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas called on the international community to resume business with the new government. He also urged Israel to accept the Arab peace plan of 2002, which was re-endorsed at last week's Arab summit in Riyadh.
Abbas was speaking to reporters after meeting in Ramallah with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who welcomed the plan, but said it was not a final one. He claimed that the government's political platform did meet the demands of the Quartet, namely recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and abiding by previous agreements with Israel, and called for resuming financial aid to the Palestinians.
"It's clear when you negotiate, that you have to talk to each other, and often the opening position is not the final position, but that you have to find a compromise. Many Arab countries now show a sense of responsibility. I feel there is good will on both sides. What is necessary is to build trust," Merkel said, before calling for the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit.
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