GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Palestinian militant group Hamas vowed Monday to expand its military activities against Israel into the West Bank, underscoring the challenges ahead as the organization began reconciliation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.
Hamas has ruled Gaza since winning legislative elections in 2006 and ousting Fatah from the coastal territory the following year, a move that prompted an Israeli and Egyptian blockade. The Western-backed PA runs autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
An Egyptian-brokered deal last month saw Hamas transfer control of Gaza’s crossings with Israel and Egypt to the PA. Hamas was expected to take further steps to extend PA control over Gaza on December 1, but disagreements between the two parties have intensified.
To restore control of Gaza and secure its authority, Fatah demands Hamas neutralize its weapon arsenal, which the Islamic group used to eject Fatah and to fight three wars against Israel, in 2008, 2012 and 2014.
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“These weapons will not be touched. It’s not for debate or talk,” Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, told reporters in Gaza. Going further, he added “These weapons will clearly move to the West Bank to battle the (Israeli) occupation there. It’s our right to fight the occupation until it ends.”
Hamas decries the Palestinian Authority’s security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank. Fatah in turn accuses Hamas of hindering the Palestinian government’s work in Gaza.
Al-Hayya’s remarks highlight stark differences between the two groups; the discussion of weapons has been delayed for future negotiations over broader national issues. They threatened to derail the Egyptian-mediated efforts to end a decade of Palestinian political and territorial split. On Monday, Egyptian security envoys hurried to Gaza to meet with Fatah and Hamas officials to try to save the agreement from further setbacks.
A major sticking point between Hamas and Fatah is resolving payments for nearly 40,000 employees Hamas has hired to run Gaza, and sanctions Abbas imposed on Gaza since March to pressure Hamas. Analysts believe the measures, which included electricity and payments cuts, helped bring Hamas to the negotiating table.
Fatah linked the lifting of the sanctions with further Hamas concessions.
“We, with our people, will work strongly to force the government to lift the punitive measures,” al-Hayya said.