Mashaal:'Beginning of end for Israel'

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal declared on Wednesday that the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank marked the beginning of the e

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Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal declared on Wednesday that the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank marked the beginning of the end of the Zionist dream in Palestine. Mashaal was speaking to reporters in Beirut and his remarks were broadcast live by a number of major Arab TV satellite stations. He dubbed the pullout a "defeat in the face of Palestinian resistance and a significant step with historic dimensions." "The resistance and the steadfastness of our people forced the Zionists to withdraw," he boasted. "The resistance is capable of ending the Israeli occupation and achieving all our rights. The armed struggle is the only strategy that Hamas possesses." Mashaal reiterated his movement's refusal to lay down its weapons, saying Hamas's duty was to defend the Palestinians and help them restore their rights. "As long as Palestinian lands remain under occupation, Hamas won't lay down its weapons," he stressed. He said, however, that Hamas was not interested in a confrontation with the Palestinian Authority. "Hamas is not competing with the Palestinian Authority, but we reject attempts to monopolize power," he explained. Mahmoud Zahar, Hamas's overall leader in the Gaza Strip, said in an interview published on Wednesday that his movement will move its activities to the West Bank after the disengagement. "Now, after the victory in the Gaza Strip, we will transfer the struggle first to the West Bank and later to Jerusalem," Zahar told the London-based pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat. "We will continue the struggle until we liberate all our lands. This is an important day for the Palestinians and proof that the armed struggle has born fruit." Asked about Hamas's future plans, Zahar said: "Neither the liberation of the Gaza Strip, nor the liberation of the West Bank or even Jerusalem will suffice us. Hamas will pursue the armed struggle until the liberation of all our lands. We don't recognize the state of Israel or its right to hold onto one inch of Palestine. Palestine is an Islamic land belonging to all the Muslims." Zahar said the disengagement would boost morale in the Arab and Muslim world and positively influence the [anti-US] campaign in Afghanistan and Iraq. "We are part of a large global movement called the International Islamic Movement," he explained. Ismail Haniyeh, another Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, expressed his fear that Israel would target Hamas after the disengagement. He also warned the PA against cracking down on Hamas supporters as it did in 1996. Meanwhile, the Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of various Palestinian militias operating in the Gaza Strip, said it was planning to transfer the technology of rocket-manufacturing to the West Bank after the disengagement. Muhammed Abdel Al, one of the leaders of the committees, said his group would move the battle against Israel to the West Bank. "We will make every effort to transfer all forms of resistance [to the West Bank] because [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon intends to move his defeated soldiers to the West Bank," he told reporters. Abdel Al, who is better known by his nickname Abu Abeer, said his group had already begun transferring the technology of rockets and other military expertise to the West Bank. "We will transfer two-thirds of our budget to the West Bank," he said. "Our rockets have a range of 18 kilometers. This means that if we fire them from Kalkilya, they will hit the occupied city of Tal al-Rabi [Tel Aviv]."