(photo credit: AP [file])
The head of the Hamas government in Gaza said Sunday that the Islamic group has no intention of taking over the West Bank by force and is ready to resume dialogue with its political rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
However, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas also launched a scathing verbal attack on the Abbas-installed rival government in the West Bank, saying it has persistently tried to undermine Hamas's rule and even cooperated with Israel in tightening a blockade of Gaza.
Haniyeh delivered a 90-minute speech to hundreds of supporters at a Gaza City convention center.
Hamas enforced a new policy, barring journalists who did not obtain a Gaza government press card from covering the event. Most journalists inside the hall were from Hamas-affiliated media, while others, including representatives of foreign news organizations, left after being denied entry. Some followed Haniyeh's speech on TV.
Hamas seized Gaza by force in June, prompting Abbas to fire the Hamas-led government and replace it with a Cabinet of relative moderates in the West Bank. Each side has accused the other of being illegitimate.
After the June takeover, Israel furthered tightened its blockade of Gaza, allowing only basic supplies and medicine in, and enabling only humanitarian hardship cases to leave.
Haniyeh on Sunday accused the West Bank government of cooperating with Israel. "Palestinian politicians were involved in tightening the siege of Gaza," he said, without referring to Abbas by name.
He also said Hamas activists were being systematically persecuted by Abbas's security forces in the West Bank. In recent months, hundreds of Hamas activists have been detained, and the West Bank government has closed Hamas-linked charities and tried to dry up funding for the group.
Haniyeh said Hamas would not hand over its weapons in the West Bank, adding that "anyone who believes he can erase this great movement from the history of our people is completely mistaken."
Yet he denied that Hamas is plotting to take over the West Bank by force. Last week, a Hamas leader in Gaza had caused an uproar among Abbas's aides when he said Hamas activists would one day pray at Abbas's headquarters in the West Bank, as they had done in Gaza.
"I want to emphasize here that all the reports that we want to repeat what happened in Gaza in the West Bank are baseless, and this is not going to happen," Haniyeh said.
Haniyeh also offered to resume talks with Abbas on a national unity government. Abbas has said he would only do so if Hamas apologizes and returns Gaza's security installations to his forces.
"We consider Hamas to be part of the Palestinian people and we are ready for dialogue if it backs off from its coup," Abbas said Sunday.