Hamas, PIJ agree to defuse tensions, strengthen cooperation

Sides smooth over differences after PIJ members expel Hamas official from mourning tent

A Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant looks out of a vehicle during a military show marking the 32nd anniversary of the organisation's founding, in the central Gaza Strip October 3, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
A Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant looks out of a vehicle during a military show marking the 32nd anniversary of the organisation's founding, in the central Gaza Strip October 3, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials said over the weekend that relations between the two groups will remain strong despite differences over last week’s round of fighting with Israel.

The officials explained that while the two groups may disagree on secondary issues, they share the same goals and strategy, particularly with regards to those related to the conflict with Israel.

The officials said the two groups have agreed to draw conclusions from last week’s round of violence and boost cooperation and coordination between their military wings.

PIJ and other Palestinians have strongly criticized Hamas for its failure to join the fighting against Israel, which erupted after the assassination of senior PIJ military commander Bahaa Abu al-Ata.

Tensions between the two terror groups reached their peak on Friday, when PIJ members attacked senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar as he arrived at a mourning tent in the Shejaia neighborhood of Gaza City to offer condolences over the death of al-Ata.

Chanting “Death to Hamas” and “Hamas go away,” the PIJ members threw stones at Zahar and his bodyguards, forcing them to flee the area. Unconfirmed reports said the Hamas bodyguards fired warning shots into the air as they whisked away Zahar and another senior Hamas official accompanying him. No one was hurt in the incident.

Later, a senior PIJ delegation headed by Khaled al-Batsh and the father of the slain commander visited Zahar at his home and apologized for the incident.

“We apologize to our brother, Mahmoud Zahar, for the unfortunate incident that took place today,” al-Batsh said. “We wish to affirm our strong relation with Hamas. We share the same destiny and enemy.”

Al-Ata’s family issued a public apology to Zahar for the “bad reception” during the condolence visit.

In the context of efforts to defuse tensions between the two groups, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Friday phoned PIJ Secretary-General Ziyad al-Nakhalah. The two agreed to “strengthen cooperation, coordination and consultations” between Hamas and PIJ, said a statement released by Haniyeh’s office. “The two also praised the performance of the Palestinian resistance groups during the last confrontation [with Israel].”

Haniyeh, the statement said, offered his condolences to al-Nakhalah over the death of PIJ members, including al-Ata, adding that the “blood of the martyrs will continue to serve as fuel for the steadfastness of the Palestinians and their resistance groups.”

Former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal on Friday phoned the father of al-Ata and PIJ official al-Batsh to offer his condolences.
Mashaal was quoted as telling the father and PIJ official that Hamas supports the family and PIJ and emphasizes the strong relation between the two sides.

Ahmed al-Mudalal, a senior PIJ official in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, played down the tensions between his group and Hamas.
“This is a temporary crisis,” he said. “Our relations will turn to normal through ongoing meetings and dialogue. No one can harm the relation between the brothers in blood and weapons. We share the same goal.”

The PIJ official said it was “natural” for brothers to have an argument, “but this does not mean that the relationship between them would be affected or weakened.”

Another PIJ official, Yusef al-Hasaineh, said that his group maintains “strong and cohesive” ties with Hamas. Israel, he added, won’t succeed in its “malicious attempt to drive a wedge” between Hamas and PIJ.