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Hamas vows to continue campaign of resistance

By Donald Macintyre

The Annapolis summit is a "farewell party" for three weakened leaders who have "talked about peace without taking any step to achieving peace", a senior Palestinian official claimed yesterday.

Ahmed Yousef, an adviser to the de facto Hamas prime minister in Gaza – Ismail Haniyeh – pledged that his party's "resistance" would continue and criticised the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, for failing to reach an accord with the Islamic faction before going to the US. "If you don't make peace with Hamas, there is no chance of peace," he said.

Dr Yousef described as a "waste of time" a joint Palestinian-Israeli statement agreed yesterday at the summit and read out by the US President. "What we saw is just a farewell party for George Bush and a hopeless attempt to portray him as a great leader who succeeded in doing what other American leaders failed to do," he said. "Annapolis is not the path to take us to a real peace. It was a waste of time."

He suggested that Mr Abbas and the Palestinian Authority were wrong to invite Arab leaders to the talks and "encouraging them to normalise relations with Israel" without a timetable or clear mechanism for peace in place. The international community had supported the US and Israel, he argued, in the false hope that boycotting Hamas would trigger a revolt against the party in Gaza.

"[They think that] the more they put the squeeze on Hamas and Ismail Haniyeh's government, the Palestinians will surrender to that kind of starvation and pressure," he added.

He claimed Mr Abbas had tried to mobilise Arab countries "because he had no Palestinian backing and needed someone to give him some support". Asked specifically about the participation of Syria, which supports Hamas and has given its political leader, Khaled Mashaal, a base in Damascus, he said he was confident Syria would make "no concessions to Israel" without a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights.

He cited a recent article by a US-Jewish academic, Henry Siegman, which suggested that Hamas represented "the last chance for peace in the Middle East". Dr Yousef said: "If you are engaging with Hamas, talking to Hamas, then you help the peace process."

Dr Yousef made his comments as tens of thousands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters demonstrated in the Gaza Strip. There were smaller rallies in West Bank cities, including Hebron, where a man was shot dead by security forces. Thirty people were arrested at a march in Ramallah.

Dr Yousef also sought to justify the continuing Palestinian attacks on Israel using Qassam rockets, which have provoked threats of a major escalation of Israeli military operations in Gaza. He claimed the missiles were "the only tool we have to signal to the world community that we are suffering and under occupation".

Dr Yousef claimed that, since winning the elections in 2006, Hamas had tried several times to test Israel's willingness to reciprocate a ceasefire – but it had continued its air strikes and targeted assasinations in Gaza.

He said the lessons of trying to make concessions to Israel since the Oslo accords in the early 1990s had been that they simply "wanted more". He added: "Without a tough struggle, without a bloody struggle they are not going to give you any inch."

He said he did not believe Israel would invade Gaza because it would encounter "surprises" – as it had done when it met fierce resistance from Hizbollah militants during the 2006 incursion into Lebanon.

"The whole Palestinian population is ready to give their lives for their dignity and their land," Dr Yousef added.

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