Ahead of summit, Hamas threatens to make deadlier Qassam rockets
Hamas: Arab League decision to attend summit a 'shock'; top official predicts wave of violence after Annapolis.
Hamas can make the rockets it fires at Israel much deadlier by packing them with more explosives, a senior official in the Islamic militant group said in a statement Saturday.
The official, Ahmed Yousef, made the threat just two days before the start of a U.S.-hosted Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland.
Israeli officials have warned that Hamas may try to disrupt the conference with more intense rocket fire. Gaza militants, including Hamas members, have fired hundreds of crude, homemade rockets at Israeli border communities in recent years, killing 12 people and disrupting life along the border.
In a statement sent to reporters, Yousef said that the rockets currently being fired have limited effect because they don't carry lethal enough warheads.
"They can be developed in a short period to create sufficient terror and fear and make the Israelis live in pain no less than what our people live through because of the repeated incursions into our villages and cities in the West Bank and Gaza," wrote Yousef, an adviser to deposed Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh.
Yousef also said Israel has rejected repeated truce offers by Hamas, which seized control of Gaza by force in the summer, prompting Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to establish a moderate government in the West Bank.
So far, no difference has been detected in Hamas' rockets. Israel said Yousef's comments reflect Hamas' intentions to try torpedo peace efforts. "We take these threats very seriously, said Mark Regev," Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Hamas calls Arab League decision to attend summit 'a shock'Hamas on Saturday condemned a decision by Arab powers to endorse next week's peace conference, saying the talks would favor Israeli policies rather than Palestinian demands.
Hamas, which refuses to recognise Israel, is excluded from the Nov. 27 conference in Annapolis, Maryland.
Arab League ministers agreed Friday to attend the conference in the hope of promoting the creation of a Palestinian state and pushing for Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria as part of a regional peace process.
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri called the announcement "a great shock for Palestinians because it opened the door for direct normalization with the occupation (Israel) amid (its) continued escalation and aggression."
"The Palestinian people had awaited an Arab consensus for breaking the siege," Abu Zuhri said in a statement, referring to a Western aid embargo and Israeli military crackdowns on Gaza since Hamas swept to power in 2006 elections.
"This meeting will only achieve more failure and more harm to the Palestinian cause and to Arab and Palestinian rights."
Saudi Arabia, long a Hamas patron, has said it would come to Annapolis despite having no formal ties with Israel. Syria, which hosts Hamas' foreign headquarters, wants clarification on the conference's agenda before it decides whether to attend.
Senior Damascus-based Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk was quoted on a Hamas Web site Friday as predicting a fresh wave of Palestinian violence in the wake of the peace conference.
"Resistance in all its forms and means will escalate in the West Bank and Gaza against the Zionist enemy," Marzouk said in a written interview. "This is because Annapolis will expose the arbitrariness of the [political] settlement track and its destructive endeavors."
Tens of thousands of Gazans rally against Annapolis summitAlso Friday, Gaza's militant groups, including Hamas, rallied tens of thousands of their supporters in a public protest against the upcoming summit, saying no such negotiations can deliver Palestinian rights.
Demonstrators in the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis marched following Friday prayers chanting "Death to Israel" and waving banners reading: (U.S. President George W.) "Bush is a war criminal not a peacemaker."
Local Hamas leaders told the Gaza demonstrators Friday that over the next few days they will hold rallies and public events against the conference, culminating in a Gaza City public meeting to coincide with the Annapolis parley.
"This is the first referendum against Annapolis," said Hamas official Khalil al-Haya. "The world must read what these rallies and conferences mean."
Riham Abu Khater, 17, said she opposed participation at Annapolis as it amounted to recognition of Israel.
"Nothing good will come out of it. Good will only come from the language of fighting, and from force," she said.
In the northern Gaza town of Jabalya, about two thousand Islamic Jihad activists and supporters took to the streets in protest at Arab participation in the Maryland meeting.
"We consider any Arab effort to make this summit a success as capitulation," said Khaled al-Batch, an Islamic Jihad leader. We don't recognize any results of this meeting...our response is resistance."