Hamas leader: Resistance will continue after pullout
BEIRUT - Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is an important achievement, but it will not lead to Hamas' disarmament, the organization's political leader, Khaled Meshal, said yesterday.
Meshal told reporters in a briefing that his group was still committed to a six-month-old truce with Israel, but added: "Our joy should not let us forget the march for liberation and the restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people.
"The withdrawal is a precedent and an important achievement because it is the first real withdrawal from Palestinian lands, but we are still at the beginning of the road, and we will not lay down arms," Meshal continued.
The Hamas leader claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "wants to send a misleading message to the world, that he is a man of peace and must be rewarded for it," charging that Sharon did not plan to remove Jewish settlers from all of Gaza.
"We will consider any part of the Strip that Israel keeps as a `Gazan Shaba Farms," he said, referring to a disputed area on the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Israel.
Israel has maintained a military presence in the Shaba Farms area since withdrawing from southern Lebanon in May 2000. Hezbollah refuses to disarm before Israel retreats completely.
In an interview published yesterday, Hamas spokesman Mahmoud Zahar said the organization would move into the settlements once Israel had left. "We will enter the settlements to tread on Israel's dignity with our feet," Zahar told the London-based Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat. "We want to be sure that this land won't be stolen."
Zahar also said that Hamas planned to move its fight to the West Bank after Israel completed its pullout from Gaza.
Meshal urged Arab countries not to hasten to normalize relations with Israel because of the withdrawal.