"We will form an army like every other country," Hamas chief Khaled Meshal said Saturday at a press conference in Syria. "This army will defend our people against aggression." Explaining what he meant by defending against aggression, Meshal said that Hamas would continue to carry out attacks on Israeli civilians. "Our presence in the legislature will strengthen the resistance," he said.
Hamas, which popularized the tactic of suicide bombing to the Middle East, won 76 of the 132 seats last week in elections to the Palestinian Authority (PA) parliament.
Meshal said that Hamas would honor commitments made by the PA to Israel, provided that those commitments "serve Palestinian interests." Meshal made the statement in response to a direct question regarding the possibility of ammending the Hamas charter, which calls for the annihilation of the Jewish state and its replacement with a state run according to Islamic law.
The Hamas spokesman also expressed what is being lauded in the world media as a hint of moderation. "We are realistic and we know things are done gradually," Meshal said. "Being against the occupation does not mean that I can eliminate Israel in mere seconds."
He invited Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah group to join a Hamas-led government. "We believe it is in everybody's interest to ride the Hamas train, because this train will reach its destination," he said. "We extend our hand to everyone. We need each other."
Meanwhile, hundreds of Fatah members marched in Ramallah on the grave of Fatah- founder Yassir Arafat, protesting the group's poor showing under Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). Abbas's security prevented the armed group from reaching the Fatah chairman's office. Earlier Saturday, armed Fatah members took over the parliament buildings in Judea and Gaza, shooting in the air. Cars and tires were also burned outside the building in Gaza.
Some demanded the resignation of Fatah politicians, while Al Aksa Brigades terrorists declared publicly that they would kill Fatah members who joined a Hamas government.
Attacks between the two terrorist groups spiked over the weekend. Hamas and Fatah terrorists exchanged fire in Gaza Saturday morning after two Fatah members working as PA police officers were wounded by a Hamas attack in Khan Younis. Another attack took place on Friday night. An earlier brawl injured three Friday afternoon.
Amid international threats to cut aid to a Hamas-led PA, Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh said that alternative funding would be found. "This aid must not be a sword held over the heads of the Palestinian people and will not be allowed to blackmail our people, Hamas and the resistance."
Haniyeh made his statement after the US threatened to eliminate the $234 million in funds that it gives each year to the PA. "They've got to get rid of that arm of their party which is armed and violent and secondly, they've got to get rid of that part of their platform that says they want to destroy Israel," U.S. President George W. Bush said in an interview Friday with CBS News.
Meshal attacked international governments for criticizing the democratic choice of the Arabs of the PA. "The world should respect the results of democracy," Meshal said. If you want to punish the Palestinian people for practicing democracy then the Americans should be punished for choosing President Bush."
The European Union, which gave the PA $612 million last year, has also indicated that Hamas's goal of destroying the Jewish State may affect funding for the PA.
Meanwhile, Shimon Peres said Friday that Israel would engage in talks with Hamas if the party "abandoned terrorism." It is unclear whether statements to that effect or a temporary cease-fire would suffice. "Israel will have to see where [Hamas] are going," Peres told the BBC, "back to the road of violence and terror, or ahead to the route of peace. They didn't take yet a decision. They weren't prepared for this victory."
Oslo architect Yossi Beilin told Israel Radio that Israel was to blame for the
Hamas victory. "Israel played a large role in weakening the Palestinian Authority and strengthening Hamas," Beilin said. "The unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, not as a part of an agreement with Abu Mazen, greatly strengthened Hamas," he said.