West Bank Hamas leaders distance themselves from Gaza activists

Two Hamas leaders in the West Bank on Wednesday distanced themselves from a Gaza counterpart who bragged that the group would eventually take over the West Bank. Hamas seized control of Gaza by force in June, defeating the security forces loyal to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In response, Abbas ordered a clampdown on Hamas in the West Bank, arresting hundreds of activists, closing Hamas-linked charities and issuing an anti-money laundering decree meant to dry up donations to the group. Hamas leaders in the West Bank have acknowledged that the group has been weakened by the campaign, and have said the movement decided not to confront Abbas' security services. However, earlier this week, a Hamas leader in Gaza, Nizar Rayan, told a rally of several thousand people that the group would one day pray in Abbas' West Bank headquarters, just as it had done in Gaza. Rayan also predicted that Abbas would be toppled. His remarks have infuriated Abbas' aides. On Wednesday, two Hamas leaders in the West Bank, Faraj Rumaneh and Hussein Abu Quaik, called a news conference and distanced themselves from Rayan. Rumaneh said he wanted to express his "discomfort" with the statements. "We think they contradict Hamas policy, which calls for dialogue and national unity and reducing difference," he said. Wednesday's statements appeared designed to help ease pressure on Hamas in the West Bank. Abbas has said he woud only resume contacts with the group if it apologized.