Hamas preacher defies PA gov't ban on incitement in mosques
Hamas leader slams Israel, U.S., Fatah during Friday sermon, another preacher replaced with gov't supporter.
A leading Hamas preacher on Friday defied an order issued by the moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank, prohibiting the dissemination of political messages and incitement within mosques.
The order, part of a campaign to stem Hamas' influence in the West Bank following the group's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip earlier this month, did have some success in toning down the rhetoric at other mosques Friday.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad met with some 800 Muslim clergy on Thursday in an attempt to stem Hamas' influence in the West Bank, and warned the Islamic preachers that he would not tolerate calls for violence delivered from mosque pulpits. He also vowed to collect militants' weapons.
Hamas is influential in many mosques in the West Bank and Gaza, and has been using Friday sermons as a vehicle for spreading its message. Preachers have also been actively involved in politics.
At a mosque in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Friday, a preacher taunted his Fatah rivals in his weekly sermon. Two police cars were parked outside the mosque during the sermon.
In the West Bank city of Jenin, a pro-Hamas preacher was replaced by a clergyman who spoke of the need to support the new Palestinian government, headed by Fayad.
However, Hamas leader Maher Kharas railed against the U.S., Israel and Palestinian moderates in a sermon at a mosque in the old city of Nablus, an area raided by Israeli troops seeking Palestinian militants earlier in the day.
"Israel soldiers invaded Nablus for two days. Where is the government to defend the old city? Where is the government that demanded the dismantling of the armed brigades?" he said. "America will be defeated in Iraq and the believing Muslims will come here victorious."
In 1996, then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat cracked down on Hamas preachers after a series of Hamas suicide bombings in Israel. He monitored them closely and those considered too militant lost their jobs. Kharas lost his position at that time, and only returned to the pulpit last year after Hamas won parliamentary elections.
Kharas said he feared no one and would not change his ways even if it cost him his job. "All my life, I preached and talked about jihad [holy war]," he said.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, appealed Friday for an international force for Gaza so the divided Palestinians can hold new elections, and insisted he was determined to isolate the militant Hamas. Abbas was in Paris for talks with newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Earlier Friday, Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian militant near Nablus.