JAFFA, Israel – Members of the Hamas terror group are the rightful representatives of the Palestinian people and should control the entire West Bank just as they rule the Gaza Strip, Mahmoud Al-Zahar, the Hamas chief in Gaza, told WND in an exclusive interview.
“According to our rights, we are the elected majority, and a majority in a democracy should control all the Palestinian areas, whether in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip. This is not an extraordinary issue,” said Al-Zahar, who is considered the second most powerful Hamas leader following the group’s overall chief, Khaled Meshaal, who resides in exile in Damascus.
“Do you respect democracy? If you respect democracy, the elections in January 06 indicated Hamas is the majority and it should run the administration in Gaza and the West Bank,” said al-Zahar, speaking from Gaza.
Al-Zahar was referring to Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 in which Hamas was victorious by a large margin. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas unilaterally disbanded the Hamas-led Palestinian government after Hamas seized control of Gaza last summer.
The Hamas chief’s comments to WND come amid fears in the Israeli intelligence community Hamas eventually may attempt to take over the strategic West Bank just as it seized Gaza, particularly if Israel withdraws from the territory.
According to multiple reports, the Israeli government reportedly has been negotiating the evacuation of most of the West Bank as part of U.S.-backed talks aimed at creating a Palestinian state, at least on paper, before President Bush leaves office in January. Israel would hand the territory to Abbas’ Fatah party.
In a dramatic statement this past weekend, Olmert declared at a Knesset meeting that “Greater Israel” is over.
“Greater Israel is over. There is no such thing. Anyone who talks that way is deluding themselves,” Olmert stated.
Greater Israel is a reference to territories captured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War, including the Gaza Strip, West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem.
Security officials in Jerusalem are warning if Israel withdraws, Abbas’ forces may not be strong enough to contend with controlling the West Bank without the aid of the Israel Defense Forces.
Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s Shin Bet Security Services, estimated during a Knesset meeting last November that if control of the West Bank were handed over to Abbas, Israel would suffer a “significant threat to its security.”
Palestinian security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted to WND they would have trouble controlling the West Bank without Israeli intervention.
According to the officials, Fatah’s intelligence apparatus routinely hands the IDF lists of Hamas militants that threaten Fatah rule, requesting that Israel make arrests, although Fatah has been stepping up direct arrests of Hamas gunmen in recent weeks.
Perhaps foreshadowing coming tensions, Hamas’ so-called military wing yesterday urged its gunmen in the West Bank to use force if security men loyal to Fatah try to arrest them.
Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian security officials told WND they have specific information Hamas is quietly setting the stages for a possible West Bank takeover attempt. The officials said that among other things, Hamas has been acquiring weaponry in the West Bank and has set up a sophisticated system of communication between cells for a seizure attempt.
In what is considered the most threatening Hamas move, according to the officials, the terror group is thought to have heavily infiltrated major Fatah forces in the West Bank and has been attempting to buy off Fatah militia members, many times successfully.
The issue of Hamas infiltration of Fatah was thought to have been the Achilles heel that led to the terror group’s takeover last summer of the entire Gaza Strip, including dozens of major, U.S.-backed Fatah security compounds there. Hamas’ seizure is thought to be a partial consequence of Israel evacuating Gaza in 2005.
Hamas’ infiltration of Fatah was so extensive, according to top Palestinian intelligence sources speaking to WND, it included the chiefs of several prominent Fatah security forces, including Yussef Issa, director of the Preventative Security Services, the main Fatah police force. Issa regularly coordinated security with the U.S. and Israel.
In a bid to strengthen Fatah, the U.S. has been providing the group’s militias with weapons, financial aid and advanced training conducted an American-run bases in the West Bank and Jordan.
But WND previously reported the U.S.-trained security forces have been failing at basic anti-terror missions.
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