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JERUSALEM – Hamas, responsible for over 100 suicide bombings and scores of shooting and rocket attacks, is ready to join the Palestinian government and lead its people to “victory and independence,” the terror group’s Gaza chief Mahmoud al-Zahar told WorldNetDaily in an exclusive interview.
With exit polls predicting the ruling Fatah Party will win today’s elections by a slim margin, some Hamas leaders accused Fatah of tampering with ballots and blasted the United States for allegedly providing financial support to the opposition.
“We are very proud of our showing so far, which indicates the Palestinian people want to put an end to corruption and the domination of Fatah, which after all these years has not been a good leader for the Palestinians,” said al-Zahar, speaking to WND just moments after initial polls showed Hamas looks set to garner 53 seats and Fatah 58 seats in the 132-member Palestinian Parliament.
Polling stations across the West Bank and Gaza Strip closed after 12 hours of voting, with ballots under inspection by the Palestinian Central Election Commission. Stations in Jerusalem stayed open an extra two hours after Fatah complained about bureaucratic delays.
Multiple exit polls predicted a slim Fatah victory, but pollsters cautioned there would be a large margin of error in their projections in light of what they called a complicated Palestinian election system, under which some seats are chosen from party lists and others on the basis of overall districts.
Still, hundreds of Fatah gunmen in the West Bank and Gaza reportedly took to the streets in celebration of their party’s expected victory, shooting rifles into the air and waving Fatah’s yellow flag.
If tomorrow’s final ballot count certifies a slim win for Fatah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would quickly need to decide whether to invite Hamas to join his government or leave the terror group in the opposition. Abbas needs to maintain a 67-seat coalition. Multiple experts have said Abbas could form a ruling coalition with several leftist and communist party’s instead of Hamas.
But al-Zahar told WND he is confident his terror group will form the next Palestinian government.
“Abbas will invite us. I think he realizes he needs Hamas and he knows the Palestinian people made a statement today that only we can rebuild Palestinian society and the West Bank and Gaza,” said al-Zahar.
President Bush today stated the U.S. will not deal with Hamas unless the terror group disarms and renounces its call to destroy Israel, but he did not say whether America will cut off financial aid to the PA if Hamas joins the government.
“A political party, in order to be viable, is one that professes peace, in my judgment, in order that it will keep the peace,” Bush said. “And so you’re getting a sense of how I’m going to deal with Hamas if they end up in positions of responsibility. And the answer is: Not until you renounce your desire to destroy Israel will we deal with you.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and European Union leaders will meet Monday to debate a response if Hamas joins the Palestinian government, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
The European Union is on record against allowing terror groups to join to PA, but there have been signs it and the U.S. may still deal with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union’s external relations commissioner, said in Brussels the EU would not rule out working with a Palestinian government partially run by Hamas, provided the group sought “peace by peaceful means” with Israel.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dick Jones this week compared a Hamas coalition to the current government in Lebanon, explaining the U.S. is speaking with Lebanese rulers but not with Hezbollah ministers and that it would be possible to create a similar system with the Palestinians.
Previously asked by WND if he thinks a Hamas election victory would bring international isolation to the Palestinian people, al-Zahar responded, “There are many countries that suffer from international isolation, but we are speaking about very big popular support [for Hamas] from the Palestinian people. … [We have the] support of many countries other than Europe and America, which has Zionist attitudes. We will succeed to help our people by all means whether the Western people accept us or not.”
Al-Zahar said his group would not disarm and might not renew a truce with Israel that expires next month. Israel says Hamas has been involved in several rocket and shooting attacks the past year in spite of the truce.
Meanwhile, Hamas leaders are debating whether or not to challenge the election results when the final count is announced, WND has learned.
Senior Hamas officials have held a series of meetings charging Fatah with illegal campaign practices.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused Fatah of keeping the ballots opened longer in Jerusalem so Fatah supporters who couldn’t reach the voting booths in time could be bussed in.
Some Hamas officials said they suspect Fatah may have tampered with ballots in certain regions and entirely forged votes in some West Bank towns.
One Hamas leader who spoke on condition his name be withheld said U.S. financial support to Fatah candidates influenced the ballots.
“The Zionist Americans helped the opposition by giving money that was used for a lot of advertising and swung the vote for Fatah,” said the leader, who said he did not want to speak on the record because Hamas has not decided yet whether to make an issue out of alleged American aide to Fatah.
The U.S. Agency for International Development reportedly funneled large sums of money to Fatah for use in campaigning to counter Hamas, the Washington Post reported, stating the PA used some of the money to purchase newspaper advertisements.
Hamas, classified by the State Department and the European Union as a terrorist organization, is responsible for thousands of deadly shooting attacks, scores of suicide bombings and has fired over 300 rockets and mortars into Israeli towns.
Among Hamas’ most notorious attacks are the “Passover massacre” in a Netanya hotel in 2002 in which 30 civilians celebrating the Jewish holiday were killed, the 2002 “Patt Junction bombing” of a Jerusalem bus killing 19 civilians, and the bombings in 2002 and 2003 of Jerusalem bus numbers 20 and 2, killing a combined 34 civilians, among scores of other large-scale suicide attacks.
Earlier this week in a widely reported interview, al-Zahar told WND his group may negotiate with Israel through a third party.
“If the Israelis have an offer to be discussed and [the offer includes] two very important points – the release of all [Palestinian] detainees and a stop of all Israeli aggression, including the process of withdrawal from the West Bank … then we are going to search for an effective and constructive process [that will bring this] at the end,” al-Zahar claimed.
Still, the terror chief said he will not amend the official Hamas charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel by “assaulting and killing,” and rejects all peace talks with the Jewish state.