Monday, October 22, 2007

Al-Qa'eda No 2 tells followers to help Hamas

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and his rival, the militant Islamic movement Hamas, received public shows of support today from two diametrically opposed camps Al-Qa'eda No 2 tells followers to help HamasBy Charles Levinson in JerusalemLast Updated: 2:05am BST 27/06/2007· Father fears for captive Israeli soldier · Alan Johnston forced to wear a bomb belt Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and his rival, the militant Islamic movement Hamas, received public shows of support today from two diametrically opposed camps.

Ehud Olmert shakes hands with Mahmoud Abbas at the regional summit in Egypt
The leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Israel stood by Mr Abbas at a four-party summit in Egypt aimed at strengthening his position. Meanwhile Ayman al Zawahiri, al-Qa'eda's deputy leader, called on Muslims to send money and weapons to Hamas in an audio tape posted on the internet. The competing endorsements highlighted the division in the Palestinian territories as the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas and cutoff from the outside world, and the West Bank, controlled by the more secular Fatah party and set to receive an influx of aid dollars, grow further apart. Mr Zawahiri's support for Hamas signaled a 180-degree shift by Osama Bin Laden's lieutenant, who in March accused the movement of surrendering Palestinian rights after it signed a power sharing deal with Mr Abbas' Fatah party.Ten days ago, however, Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip, routing the Fatah-dominated security services.

Now Mr Zawahiri is calling on the movement, which was founded in 1987 as an offshoot to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, to impose Islamic rule, and encouraging al-Qa'eda's allies across the Muslim world to lend their support. "Provide them (Hamas) with money break the siege imposed on them by crusaders and Arab leader traitors. Facilitate weapons smuggling from neighbouring countries," Mr Zawahiri said in his taped statement. Al-Qa'eda's endorsement, however, puts Hamas in a difficult situation as it manoeuvres for a resumption of ties with Mr Abbas' government in the West Bank and an end to international boycott. Hamas also receives money, arms and training from Iran, whose Shia allies in Iraq are embroiled in a vicious sectarian war with Sunni al-Qa'eda there. Mr Zawahiri's statement of support may also, however, help Hamas shore up support among its more hardline followers in Gaza, the West Bank and elsewhere in the Sunni Arab world, many of whom share sympathies with al-Qa'eda.

Mr Zawahiri's past criticisms left observers wondering if perhaps Hamas was losing its grass roots credibility as an uncompromising Islamic resistance movement."One day Zawahiri is against Hamas, and now he is with us," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told The Daily Telegraph. "There is a big difference between al-Qa'eda and Hamas. We respect all the religions of the world including Judaism and Christianity. We believe in moderate Islam and democratic processes."The meeting between Mr Abbas, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdullah II of Jordan, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the Sinai beach town of Sharm al Sheikh was further upstaged by a second audio tape of Corporal Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured exactly one year ago by Hamas and two other militant factions.In the first proof that he was still alive, Mr Shalit, 20, called on Israel to meet his captors' demands and release Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails. "I have been in prison for an entire year and my health is deteriorating. I need lengthy hospitalization,"

Mr Shalit said in the tape which was posted on the Web site of Hamas' armed wing the Ezzedine al Qassam Brigades. "Just as I have parents, a mother and father, thousands of Palestinian detainees have mothers and fathers whose sons must be returned to them."At the summit in Egypt, Mr Abbas is looking to Israel to make concessions that will bolster his standing on the Palestinian street and strengthen his hand against Hamas, including releasing more tax dollars, providing military equipment such as armoured vehicles and bulletproof vests, and removing some of the 500 roadblocks that have corralled Palestinians into cantons across the West Bank.Israel, which wants Mr Abbas to crack down on militants in the West Bank, made a "gesture of goodwill" this evening by agreeing to release 250 Fatah prisoners. Hamas denounced the summit which began with a handshake between Mr Abbas and Mr Olmert. It was the two leaders first meeting since April. "Abbas slams the door on dialogue with Hamas and opens the door wide to the Israeli occupation," said Hamas' Mr Barhoum."This summit legitimizes the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people."

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