- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2006

12:28 p.m.

CAIRO — The deputy leader of al Qaeda criticized both sides of the Palestinian power struggle in a video aired today, calling Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “America’s man” but also lashing out at the Islamist group Hamas.

Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri scoffed at the plan to hold early elections in the Palestinian territories, saying that voting would lead only to defeat and that the right policy was armed struggle.

“Any way other than holy war will lead us only to loss and defeat,” al-Zawahri said in clips broadcast by Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite channel.

He did not say whom the Palestinians should fight, but previously he has always recommended “holy war” against Israel and the West.

Mr. Abbas has called early elections to end the increasingly violent rivalry between his moderate Fatah party and the militant Hamas movement, which dominates parliament.

Al-Zawahri warned that if Palestinians accepted Mr. Abbas as their president, it would be “the end of holy war.”

The video — which bore the logo of al Qaeda’s media production house, al-Sahab — marked the 15th time this year that al-Zawahri has sent out a statement. In today’s tape, he appeared exactly as in previous videos that have been authenticated by CIA analysts.

Al-Zawahri also told the United States that it was negotiating with the wrong people in Iraq.

“I want to tell the Republicans and the Democrats together … you are trying to negotiate with some parties to secure your withdrawal, but these parties won’t find you an exit [from Iraq] and your attempts will yield nothing but failure,” al-Zawahri said.

In an apparent criticism of Mr. Abbas and his Fatah party, al-Zawahri said: “Those who are trying to liberate the Islamic territories through elections based on secular constitutions, or on decisions to hand over Palestine to the Jews, will not liberate one grain of sand of Palestine.”

He also criticized the militant Hamas party — although he did not name it — which has condemned the proposal for early elections. He accused Hamas of making a number of concessions that ultimately would lead to “the recognition of Israel.”

He said these concessions began with Hamas’ signing “the truce” with Israel last year; then the group took part in the January elections “based on a secular constitution,” and recognized Mr. Abbas as the head of the Palestinian Authority.

Al-Zawahri rebuked Hamas particularly for not pushing for an Islamic constitution before it contested the elections.

“Aren’t they an Islamic movement? Aren’t they campaigning for the word of God to be supreme?” he said, adding that the party should have insisted on the drafting of “an Islamic constitution for Palestine.”

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum brushed off al-Zawahri’s criticism and defended the party’s electoral policy.

“Our Palestinian institutions are in need of reform, and to fix them, we need to participate in parliament and other institutions,” Mr. Barhoum said.

“We are not responding to al-Zawahri so much as we are affirming who we are as a movement,” Mr. Barhoum added.

Al-Zawahri’s comments were expected to have little influence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hamas has distanced itself from al Qaeda, saying its struggle is against Israel, not the West at large.

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