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Hamas leader: Gaza conflict strengthened Palestinian unity

While Israel has consistently linked Gaza's reconstruction with the Strip's demilitarisation, Hamas' leader insists group will not be disarmed
'The weapons of resistance are sacred,' Hamas' chief said Thursday (AFP)

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal on Thursday said that Palestinian factions remain united after 50 days of fighting that ended in Gaza earlier this week.

"Without the popular support in Gaza," Meshaal said, "the resistance would not have won. One of the targets of the assault was to strike the national Palestinian reconciliation, because Palestinian reconciliation was firm throughout the assault in (the battle) and negotiations." 

The Hamas leader also rejected any attempt to disarm his group as demanded by Israel, saying the Hamas' weapons were "sacred".

"The weapons of the resistance are sacred and we will not accept that they be on the agenda" of future negotiations with Israel, Meshaal said during a news conference.

Israel has consistently linked the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, devastated during its 50-day war with Hamas that ended on Tuesday, to the territory's demilitarisation.

But Meshaal insisted that Hamas will not lay down its arms.

"The issue is not up for negotiations. No one can disarm Hamas and its resistance," he said of the Palestinian fighters.

Also during the news conference in Doha where Meshaal lives in exile:

  • Meshaal said Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif, whose wife and two children were killed during an assasination attempt on his life last week, is alive.
  • Asked how he could agree to a ceasefire agreement that he had rejected in the first week of the war, Meshaal responded, "Our demands were just, but in the end we had the Palestinian demands on the one hand and the pain of Gaza's civilian population on the other. So we agreed to the cease-fire in the knowledge that the siege will be lifted, that the other issues like the seaport and airport will be on the negotiating table in another month, and that the weapon in the hands of the resistance are the guarantees that its goals, above all the building of an airport and seaport, along with the release of the prisoners, will be achieved."
  • Directing comments at the Israeli public, Meshaal said, "Your leadership lies to you, and acts in the name of its self-interest to survive politically. You need to understand that there is no security as long as the occupation goes on. We are not enemies on account of religion, we respect every religion. Our enemy is the occupation."

Both Israel and Hamas have hailed the truce as a "victory".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose approval ratings were reportedly cut in half by the end of the conflict, has said Hamas achieved none of its demands by the time a "permanent" ceasefire came into effect at 1600 GMT Tuesday.

However, Hamas leaders have said they achieved their goals and targets.

"We hit the occupation," a Hamas spokesperson, Fawzi Barhoum, told reporters after the ceasefire was announced. "In the future the resistance will be about to go to Jerusalem and [the current war] paves the way to our target of reaching al Aqsa and Jerusalem.

"Today, we are telling Israel as the agreement has started - you can go home because of a decision taken by Hamas, not taken by Netanyahu," he added. 

Under the deal, Israel will ease restrictions on the entry of goods, humanitarian aid and construction materials into Gaza, and it extended the offshore area open to Palestinian fishermen.

Talks on crunch issues such as Hamas's demands for a port and an airport and the release of prisoners, as well as Israel's calls to disarm militant groups, will be delayed until negotiators return to Cairo within the coming month.

Meshaal said his group's weaponry "guarantees that our demands will not be overlooked", although he acknowledged that not all its conditions for a ceasefire had been met.

"Not all our demands have been satisfied... but an important part," he said, referring to the easing of Israel's blockade of the impoverished territory.

The Hamas leader called for Egypt, which he praised for mediating the truce, to open its Rafah crossing with Gaza. "It is the duty of our brothers in Egypt to quickly open Rafah," he said.

The seven-week conflict claimed the lives of at least 2,140 Palestinians, more than 70 percent of them civilians according to the United Nations, and 64 soldiers and six civilians on the Israeli side