Palestinian Islamic militant group Hamas said on Saturday it would fight to drive Israel out of the West Bank and Jerusalem after the Jewish state completes its withdrawal from the occupied Gaza Strip this year.
“Gaza is not Palestine,” a masked spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing told a news conference in Gaza City.
“As for Jerusalem and the West Bank, we will seek to liberate them by resistance just as the Gaza Strip was liberated,” said the spokesman, surrounded by gunmen and militants with rocket launchers.
He did not explicitly say Hamas, committed to destroying Israel, planned to abandon a truce at the end of 2005.
Militants had agreed to respect a ceasefire until the end of the year at the behest of President Mahmoud Abbas, who wanted to ensure a quiet withdrawal of the settlers from Gaza — due to end next week.
The pullout is seen by the Palestinian leadership and international community as a step towards reviving negotiations on statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
But militants see the first removal of settlements from land Palestinians want for a state as a victory for an armed uprising that surged after talks failed in 2000.
Israel has said there can be no talks before the dismantling of groups like Hamas, the biggest faction behind suicide bombings, shootings and rocket attacks during the uprising.
Abbas hopes to coax the militants along a political track and Hamas is expected to make a strong showing in parliamentary elections scheduled for Jan. 25, 2006, but the group has rejected an question of disarmament.
“Our arms removed the Zionist enemy and therefore we will not abandon our weapons and we will not hand the over to anybody,” said the Hamas spokesman. He said the issue “was not up for discussion”.
At the same time, Hamas said it had no intention of clashing with Palestinian security forces.
Palestinians welcome Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, but fear it is a ruse to hold onto large West Bank settlements and Arab East Jerusalem — which Palestinians want for their capital and Sharon says Israel will never relinquish.
About 9,000 settlers will leave the 21 Gaza settlements and four of 120 in the West Bank. Some 230,000 settlers will remain. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are home to 3.8 million Palestinians.
Most Israelis favour getting out of Gaza, but rightists say it rewards Palestinian attacks as well as giving up a biblical land claim.