- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 28, 2006

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Hamas suggested yesterday that the Islamic group could create a Palestinian army that would include its militant wing — responsible for scores of deadly attacks on Israelis — in the aftermath of its crushing victory in parliamentary elections.

Israeli officials condemned the plan, demanding that Hamas renounce violence. Palestinian security officers, including loyalists from the defeated Fatah party, said they would never submit to Hamas control.

“Hamas has no power to meddle with the security forces,” said Jibril Rajoub, a Palestinian strongman.

Angry police stormed the parliament building in Gaza, and armed militants marched into Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ compound in Ramallah to demonstrate their rejection of Hamas’ authority. Their defiance raised fears of a spike in violence between Palestinian factions.

Clashes have already broken out between the two sides. Hamas gunmen wounded two policemen in Gaza early yesterday in what authorities said was a roadside ambush. The attack happened hours after another firefight wounded a Hamas activist and two police officers, one of whom was in a coma yesterday.

Hamas won 76 out of 132 seats in parliamentary elections Wednesday to Fatah’s 45. The militant group’s victory threw the fate of international aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority in doubt and darkened the chances for a peace deal with Israel.

Speaking from his base in Damascus, Syria, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal insisted his group would not disarm and said Hamas’ military wing, estimated at nearly 5,000 gunmen in Gaza alone, could be merged into a Palestinian army.

“We are ready to unify the weapons of Palestinian factions, with Palestinian consensus, and form an army like any independent state,” he said.

Israeli officials demanded that Hamas look for peaceful solutions to the conflict.

“If Hamas wants to be considered a partner in peace, it’s very clear what it has to do. It has to renounce terrorism, disarm, accept Israel’s right to exist and support political solutions to issues rather than pursuing violent jihad,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

Mr. Mashaal also said Hamas would abide by existing agreements with the country “as long as it is in the interest of our people.”

Israel and the Palestinians have a host of agreements dealing with everything from administration to peace frameworks. Mr. Mashaal did not say which agreements he was referring to.

Israeli officials have said repeatedly that they would not deal with Hamas, and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Israel would not rule out targeted killings against Hamas leaders if they attack Israel. Israeli air strikes in 2004 killed Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin and his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

“Whoever stands at the head of a terror organization and continues to carry out terror attacks against Israel is not immune,” Mr. Mofaz told Israel’s Channel 2 television.

Hamas’ victory shocked Fatah, which dominated Palestinian politics for four decades. Mr. Abbas ordered an investigation into why his party lost so badly.

Marwan Barghouti, the imprisoned Palestinian uprising leader who was Fatah’s top candidate and led efforts to reform the party, appealed for Fatah to hold a general conference to elect fresh leadership, according to a statement released by his wife, Fadwa.

He also congratulated Hamas and said Fatah would peacefully transfer power.

“We will respect the democratic process and its results and help those who won the confidence of our people,” he said.

But many in the 58,000-member security force were less conciliatory and rejected any Hamas control.

“The security institution is a red line. We will not allow anyone to tamper with it,” Gaza police Chief Alaa Hosni said. “It will remain a powerful and impartial arm that carries out the decisions of [Mr. Abbas’] presidency and that stops any infighting or civil war.”

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