Hamas Says Gaza Withdrawal Won't Stop Conflict

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

Gaza City (CNSNews.com) - The scheduled withdrawal of Israeli communities from the Gaza Strip is a defeat for Israel, and the armed conflict that led to that "defeat" will continue until Israel leaves all of the West Bank and Israel, a senior Hamas leader said in an interview with Cybercast News Service.

Hamas, on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, is taking credit for Israel's decision to uproot Jewish communities and Israeli military bases from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank. The disengagement, initiated by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, is scheduled to begin in mid-August.

Mahmoud al Zahar, 60, is the most senior Hamas member in Gaza, although he refuses to admit it. Since Israel assassinated the group's spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in March 2004 and his successor Abdel Aziz Rantissi a month later, the Hamas leadership has gone underground.

Educated in Cairo, Zahar is a surgeon who once taught at an Islamic university, he said. Far from being grateful for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, Zahar said the process needs to continue -- until Jews also leave the entire West Bank and all of Israel.

"They are going to leave [Gaza], not because this is a gift from Israel. This is because they failed to confront our people, so don't describe their withdrawal from here...as a gift for the Palestinians," Zahar said in an interview at his home in Gaza. "This is because they are defeated here."

Two years ago, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon described the Gaza Strip settlement of Netzarim as a vital part of Israel's national security and now he is going to leave, said Zahar. That is because of the "effective armed struggle," he said.

"Just wait and see the dirty game when they are going to [take] the settlers from this land," Zahar said.

"The press [will show] how they are weeping and they are crying because they are going to extract them from their homeland. This is a fabricated story," he said, adding that the Jewish settlers "came here, stole our land, killed our people."

Jewish people believe that God promised them the land of Israel, including the Gaza Strip, as an eternal inheritance.

But Hamas will never recognize the existence of a Jewish State in the region, said Zahar.

According to his theology, the land here belongs to Islam, and the creation of the State of Israel 1948 was a colonial move by the West.

Hamas wants to overthrow the Jewish State and establish a pan-Islamic nation in its place - one extending from Lebanon to Egypt and from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea -- all of the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Israel, he said.

Hurt Israel, help Palestinians

Gaza City, a Hamas stronghold, sprawls for miles, encompassing refugee camps and neighborhoods in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. Divided boulevards branch off into dusty, unpaved side streets. Children play and walk unattended in the streets.

Cars old and new share the roads with donkey and horse carts -- many driven by youngsters -- transporting everything from vegetables to junk. The city has only a handful of traffic lights.

Hamas is everywhere in the city. The organization's green flags flutter from the tops of light posts. Billboards display pictures of "martyrs" -- those who have been killed while committing terror attacks or in confrontations with Israel.

Hamas -- the Arabic acronym for The Islamic Resistance Movement -- got its start as an Islamic charitable organization offering widespread social and educational services to impoverished Palestinians while promoting Islam. It later turned to terrorism.

Since the early 1990s, Hamas has carried out some of the grizzliest terror attacks in Israel, including suicide bombings on buses and in other public places.

But Palestinians see a different side of Hamas. This week, buses flying Hamas flags ferried children to summer camps.

Outside a falafel shop, a poster with smiling male faces on it announces a combined wedding in September for 60 couples who cannot afford to have their own -- sponsored by Hamas. (The betrothed don't necessarily have to be Hamas members.)

While Hamas has widespread popular support in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority is still struggling to assert its authority. In recent municipal elections, Hamas won sweeping victories over the Fatah (PLO) Party of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

If Hamas' popularity translates into victories in upcoming parliamentary elections, it is expected to have a negative impact on future Israeli-Palestinian relations.

One Fatah member says Israel can blame itself for Hamas' ascendancy.

Abdallah Frangi, a member of Fatah's central committee and the PLO's ambassador to Germany, criticized Israel for not coordinating its withdrawal from Gaza with the P.A. and for destroying the P.A.'s infrastructure during the last four years of conflict.

That has allowed Hamas to gain strength, Frangi said during an interview at his home in Gaza.

Hamas is planning to make a "big show" when Israel leaves the Gaza Strip, just as Hizballah did when Israel left Lebanon in 2000, said Frangi. (Hizballah continued to attack Israel, even as Israel withdrew its troops, so Hizballah could claim that they had chased Israel out of Lebanon.)

Frangi said he does not expect Hamas to use violence against Israel. However, Hamas has continued to fire rockets and mortar shells at Israeli communities almost daily, both inside and outside the Gaza Strip.

"We [are trying] to build a government from all the Palestinian movements," Frangi said. "They [Hamas] are not willing to do it...They want to give the people here the feeling that they are those people that are responsible for [forcing] the Israelis [to leave] the Gaza Strip."

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