Hamas’ new top leader delivers first speech in Gaza City
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The new supreme leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas on Wednesday delivered his first public speech since taking office in May, railing against Israel and the Trump administration while calling for unity with the rival Palestinian Authority.
But in his speech, Ismail Haniyeh attached a series of conditions that will almost surely be rejected by his rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. That could set the stage for an emerging alliance between Hamas and an exiled Abbas rival who is seeking a return to Palestinian politics.
Haniyeh’s speech, delivered at a Gaza City hotel to a group of supporters, came at a difficult time for his group, which has been battered by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade, international isolation and deep economic problems.
Hamas took control of Gaza a decade ago from Abbas’ forces, leaving him in control only in the West Bank. Reconciliation efforts have repeatedly failed.
In his speech, Haniyeh repeated a call for a unity government with Fatah and preparations for general elections.
He said Abbas’ Palestinian Authority must halt its security coordination with Israel in the West Bank, “whatever the result is,” and called for joining forces against the Israeli “occupation.” Israel and Abbas’ forces maintain communications in a joint effort to stop Hamas and other militants.
The Western-backed Abbas wants Palestinian elections to be held first, and he has defended the security coordination with Israel. Hamas is shunned as a terrorist group by Israel and the United States for its founding charter that calls for eliminating the Jewish state.
Haniyeh also said the new U.S. administration “is working quickly to extort Islamic and Arab powers” in a way to bolster Israel.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the 2007 Gaza takeover, and conditions in Gaza have steadily deteriorated.
In recent months, Abbas has attempted to step up pressure on Hamas to force it to cede control. He has slashed the salaries of thousands of employees in Gaza, forced some 6,000 people into early requirement and asked Israel to reduce electricity shipments to Gaza. As a result, Gazans receive only about four hours of electricity each day.
Hamas has recently sought help from Egypt, which has cool relations with the Islamic group. It also is in contact with Mohammed Dahlan, a former aide to Abbas who was forced into exile after a falling out with the president.
Dahlan, who is based in the United Arab Emirates, has facilitated a deal to ship Egyptian fuel into Gaza to ease the electricity crunch.
Haniyeh confirmed that along with Hamas-Egypt talks, meetings were held with Dahlan’s aides “that led to understandings that will reflect positively on our people in Gaza.”
“The Egyptians showed readiness to resolve Gaza crises and issued instructions for a series of procedures to do so,” Haniyeh said.
Analysts believe that Dahlan is plotting a return to Gaza in a bid to challenge Abbas or position himself to succeed the 82-year-old leader.