(photo credit: AP [file])
The head of the Hamas government spoke Friday at a rally of thousands of supporters of the Islamic Jihad movement, trying to reduce tensions after deadly clashes this week between the two political rivals.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad share an Islamic militant ideology, are directed by leaders based in Damascus and receive some support from Iran. Tensions between the two rose after Hamas seized control of Gaza in June, and insisted it had a monopoly on carrying weapons in public. There have been repeated clashes between Hamas police and Islamic Jihad gunmen, including fighting several days ago that left two people dead.
On Friday, an Islamic Jihad rally commemorating the assassination of its founder by Israel in Malta in 1995 drew some 10,000 people, an unexpectedly large turnout for the group.
The crowd gathered in a field in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, and the group's leader in exile, Ramadan Shalah, spoke by telephone. Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, and other senior Hamas figures, also attended the rally.
"We will not accept disagreement with any faction, foremost with our brothers in the Islamic Jihad," Haniyeh told the audience. The crowd responded by chanting "Islamic Jihad, Islamic Jihad."
Haniyeh said leaders from both sides will work to contain tension. "Our relation with Islamic Jihad is strategic, stable and will not be shaken with a few events," he said.
Islamic Jihad is much smaller and more radical than the ruling Hamas. It doesn't participate in elections and says only fighting Israel will lead to ending occupation. Hamas took part in elections and has reached cease-fire deals with Israel in the past.
Shalah, speaking from Damascus, said Islamic Jihad is not trying to challenge Hamas' rule.
"Out of concern for the Islamic undertaking and for Hamas .. .which is facing the trials and tribulations of engaging in politics, I tell them we are not competing for authority or positions or gains .... or even for mosques," he said. "Our project is jihad (holy war) and resistance."