Hamas figure calls for Israel's destruction

Government of Sharon urges Abbas to disarm radical Islamist group

August 28, 2005|By Laura King | Laura King,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon condemned threats by a senior Hamas fugitive to fight on to destroy Israel, and urged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday to disarm the radical Islamist organization.

Hamas released a videotape early yesterday in which Mohammed Deif - who masterminded many of the suicide bombings carried out by the group over the past decade - described Israel's recent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as a victory for Palestinian militants.

Deif, whose face was seen only in shadow on the videotape, taunted Israel for "leaving Gaza today in shame."

"Today you are leaving hell," he said. "But we promise that tomorrow, God willing, all Palestine will be hell for you."

Israeli and Palestinian security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they believed the tape to be genuine, based on previous recordings of Deif's voice. He is thought to have been maimed in an Israeli assassination bid in 2002, one of several attempts to kill him.

Hamas, which has said it would observe an informal cease-fire until year's end, plans to run candidates in Palestinian parliamentary elections in January for the first time. Hamas, which in addition to its militant activities also runs social services programs, has made a strong showing in recent municipal elections.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said the tape should serve as a "wake-up call" as to the group's real intentions.

"Hamas is part of the problem, not the solution," Regev said. "It's terribly important that the Palestinian Authority act to fulfill its own promise to have one authority, one law and one gun. As long as a group like Hamas remains armed, it can try to destroy any positive momentum at will."

In an explicit challenge to Abbas, Deif vowed that the group would never give up its arms.

"We warn against touching these weapons," he said. "We want to keep them as an effective means of liberating the rest of our homeland."

The Deif tape reflected the continued jockeying by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to claim credit for Israel's decision to uproot 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four smaller ones in the northern West Bank.

Abbas maintains that the armed struggle does not serve Palestinian national goals; Hamas says that without it, Israel would not have left Gaza. All 8,500 Jewish settlers have been evacuated from the territory, and Israeli troops are expected to depart in a matter of weeks.

"Without this jihad ... we would not have achieved the liberation of the Gaza Strip," Deif said in the tape, which was provided to Associated Press in Gaza. Hamas later posted a transcript on its Web site, and parts of it aired on the pan-Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera.

Abbas has avoided direct confrontation with Hamas, saying it would be tantamount to civil war. But Israeli media said Abbas promised, in a meeting yesterday with Israeli lawmaker Ephraim Sneh, to demand that Hamas disarm if it wants to join the Palestinian government.

Sneh is a leader of the Labor Party, which is part of Sharon's governing coalition. He traveled to Abbas' Ramallah headquarters for the meeting.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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