Hamas Building Army to Resist Disarmament

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Hamas is using the current period of "calm" to build a popular army in Gaza that would resist any future Israeli incursions or any attempt by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to disarm the organization, a senior Israeli military source said.

Israel and the U.S. are at odds over Hamas' participation in the upcoming P.A. parliamentary elections scheduled for January. Israel opposes Hamas' participation because the group refuses to give up its arms and still calls for the destruction of the State of Israel both in its covenant and rhetoric.

Hamas has claimed responsibility for numerous deadly suicide bombings since the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in the early 1990s. Hundreds of Israelis and some Americans have been killed and wounded in those attacks.

Abbas has insisted that Hamas be allowed to participate in the elections. Washington has said that although Hamas is still considered a terrorist organization, in the interest of democratic development, its participation in elections is an internal P.A. affair.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told visiting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier this week that allowing Hamas to participate in the elections would be a serious mistake because it would weaken Abbas.

Israel will not interfere in the elections but neither will it coordinate with the P.A. as long as Hamas is involved, Sharon said. Israel will not allow Hamas members involved in terrorism to roam about freely without fear of being arrested, he said.

"Hamas' participation could lead to the end of the roadmap, if there is a situation in which an armed terrorist organization is a political partner in the Palestinian administration," Sharon said.

Rice said that while she respects Israel's position, she believes that it would be easier to compel Hamas to disarm once the P.A. elections are over, because international pressure could be brought to bear. If Abbas does not disarm Hamas, he will lose American and international support, she said.

But according to a senior Israeli military source, Hamas has no intention of being disarmed and is in fact increasing its forces and military capabilities in the Gaza Strip.

The best time for dismantling Hamas is now; Hamas is taking advantage of the "calm down" to build up its forces in Gaza, the senior source told CNSNews.com.

"In many ways [Gaza] is a training base for Palestinian terrorists," said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Hamas is building a popular army of thousands of fighters in Gaza who will be well equipped and well trained to prevent Israel from returning to Gaza and to prevent the "remote possibility" that Abbas might try to disarm the organization by force, the source said.

Hamas is also trying to obtain long-range rockets that will be able to attack southern Israeli cities like Ashkelon and Ashdod and maybe even Beersheva, he said.

Of "great concern" to Israel is the smuggling of weapons that is taking place from the Sinai Desert across the Egyptian-Palestinian border into Gaza and the possibility that terrorist organizations will now be able to move those weapons onto the West Bank, he said.

Israel and the P.A. made an agreement this week that allows the P.A. to have control over the border between Egypt and Gaza as early as next week and provides for Palestinian bus and truck convoys through Israel between the Gaza Strip and West Bank to begin in the near future.

The West Bank is much closer to Israeli population centers -- in some places a few miles. If for instance, a terror group there could obtain anti-aircraft missiles, it could threaten civilian air traffic taking off and landing at Israel's main international airport.

'Calm down'

Since Abbas was elected as the head of the P.A. following Yasser Arafat's death, most of the terrorist organizations have agreed to a period of calm, except for Islamic Jihad, which has carried out a number of suicide bombings since then.

Hamas was forced to accept the idea of a "calm down" following the election of Abbas in January because the organization has a dual identity as a militant organization and also a social movement, said the senior source.

As a social movement, Hamas had to listen to the expectations of the public, and the Palestinian population at large decided to give Abbas a chance to prove that Palestinians could achieve their goals without violence.

But after the January elections that may all change, the source said.

Hamas believes that following the parliamentary elections, the Palestinian public will have a "crisis in expectations" if Israel or the international community do not deliver on promises to ease the daily lives of Palestinians. Because of that crisis, Hamas will regain the "legitimacy for violent confrontation," the source said.

As for Abbas, he believes the best way to "disarm" Hamas is through dialogue and by bringing the group into the political system, where Hamas will maintain its weapons but will be restrained from using them, said the source.

But Hamas has no intention of giving up its weapons or its identity as a Jihad organization and Abbas has no intention of disarming the group by force not before or after the elections, he added.

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