A senior Hamas official Wednesday threatened both open confrontation with the Palestinian Authority and continued attacks on Israel from Gaza after the disengagement, saying that Hamas had "lost faith" in Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).

In an interview with a local Gaza news agency, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, said Hamas was not willing "to serve as a fig leaf" for PA control of Gaza following the disengagement, would not give up its weapons and was liable to continue bombarding Israel with mortars and rockets from Gaza after the disengagement "in order to liberate the West Bank and Jerusalem."

However, other senior Hamas officials moved quickly to try to moderate the fears of civil war that Zahar's interview aroused among the Palestinian public. Sheikh Hassan Yusuf, a senior Hamas leader from Ramallah, for instance, published a statement saying that Zahar "exaggerated in describing [Hamas'] differences of opinion with the Palestinian Authority and Abu Mazen."

Zahar, who gave the interview as Abbas was in Damascus to try and reach an agreement with Hamas' external leadership on various PA-Hamas disputes, warned: "The Palestinian Authority and Fatah need to know that what they are doing now is playing with fire. They will bear responsibility for ignoring Hamas and the [other] factions and for their insistence on managing the withdrawal alone. We will not serve as a fig leaf on this matter, nor will we allow it [the PA] to steal the achievements of the street and Hamas - the sacrifice of its [Hamas'] sons and its leadership to liberate the land of Gaza - just so that this land will be distributed to some individual or another."

He even hinted that Hamas would be willing to use force against the PA to prevent it from running Gaza after Israel's withdrawal: "Just as we did not accept the occupation of the land, we will not allow it to be allocated to anyone who did not play a part in liberating it," he said, referring to the PA. "The PA, which accuses itself day and night of corruption, cannot manage the population. They will encounter a determined street if they try to decide by themselves, and Hamas will never work with them."

Hamas will not join a unity government, as the PA has proposed, Zahar said. It would agree to sit on a committee comprised of representatives of all the Palestinian factions, which would manage Gaza jointly, but only if this committee were not part of the PA. Moreover, "only those who liberated Gaza should participate in such a committee, not other parties, who are now trying to increase the number of people who want to share in the division of the spoils," he said.

"Hamas will keep its weapons after the withdrawal, because they serve to defend every centimeter of the homeland against Zionist aggression," Zahar continued.

"Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem are one geographic unit, and Hamas will not sit quietly in Gaza if it is attacked in the West Bank. Who will guarantee that the occupation won't return to Gaza? And who will protect Hamas members against the PA? The Preventive Security Service, which arrested its members in the past? The mukhabarat [secret police], which is gathering intelligence on it? We will not give our weapons to anyone, and we will not enter the PA's jails."

Zahar also attacked Abbas personally, the first time Hamas has done so since his election. Describing the PA chairman as "a man who can't be relied on," he charged that Abbas had broken numerous agreements with Hamas. "Hamas has lost faith in him because he did not carry out what was agreed on with the movement," Zahar said.

"We agreed on a `supreme national body' and this was not implemented," he continued, referring to the idea that Hamas and Islamic Jihad would join the PLO under new rules. "We agreed that our people would not be harmed by the PA, and this was not implemented. The same is true of the continuation of local elections, which are not being held, and of the parliamentary elections. Even though there are written agreements, Fatah postponed [the elections] unilaterally, and now Abu Mazen is setting new dates and sending us emissaries to get us to agree to them."

Zahar demanded both that a date for parliamentary elections be set and that a new Central Elections Commission be formed to replace the current one, to ensure that the elections are free of fraud.

"Relations between Fatah and Hamas are strained against the background of its [Fatah's] verbal attacks on the organization," he said.