By Selim Saheb Ettaba and Nasser Abu Bakr (AFP) – 1 hour ago
CAIRO — Hamas is looking to focus its energies on popular resistance without giving up its right to wage armed struggle against Israel, the Islamist movement's leader Khaled Meshaal told AFP in an interview.
"Every people has the right to fight against occupation in every way, with weapons or otherwise. But at the moment, we want to cooperate with the popular resistance," the group's Damascus-based leader said in the interview late on Thursday.
"We believe in armed resistance but popular resistance is a programme which is common to all the factions," he said.
The Islamist movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, has long called for the destruction of the Jewish state and has fiercely defended its right to wage a bloody armed struggle to end the occupation.
Although not opposed in principle by Hamas, popular, non-violent resistance has never been a priority for the group which made its name through its suicide attacks against Israel.
His comments were made just hours after talks in Cairo with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who heads the rival Fatah movement, in a bid to cement a stalled reconciliation agreement which was signed in May but has made no progress since.
Speaking to reporters in Cairo, the two leaders approved a two-page document reiterating their commitment to the main elements of the original deal, and hailed a new era of "partnership."
The document, a copy of which was seen by AFP, outlines agreement on "the adoption of popular resistance" which is to be to be strengthened to oppose the seizure of land for Jewish settlement building and construction of the West Bank barrier.
"This resistance will be increased and organised and there is to be an agreement on its style, on greater efficiency and the formation of a framework to direct it," the accord says.
Meshaal did not go into detail about the focus on popular resistance but said the Hamas leadership would ensure the agreement was translated into action.
"I asked them to take practical and positive measures to flesh out this agreement," he told AFP.
"I have instructed the Hamas leadership (in Gaza and Damascus) to adopt a political line and one with the press that doesn't upset the conciliatory spirit, and that truly reflects the atmosphere of reconciliation."
The Hamas chief also brushed off threats by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has vowed to retaliate should Abbas's Western-backed Palestinian Authority form a unity government with Gaza's Islamist rulers.
"The threats by Netanyahu's government and its security cabinet don't scare us but confirms that we are heading in the right direction," he said shortly after Israeli ministers decided to maintain a freeze on millions of dollars in tax monies owed to the Palestinians in response to the Hamas-Fatah rapprochement.
Israel has voiced sharp criticism of Fatah's bid to end the rift with Hamas, with Netanyahu urging Abbas to "stop the reconciliation process with Hamas."
"The closer Abu Mazen gets to Hamas, the further he moves away from peace," his spokesman Mark Regev told AFP on Thursday, using Abbas's nom-de-guerre.
Israel is deeply concerned about the two forming a unity government, but such a step is not on the cards until after elections which are due in May 2012.
Before then, the priority is to set up caretaker cabinet of non-affiliated technocrats, which has not yet happened due to differences over its make-up and who should be premier.
Abbas has long lobbied to keep Salam Fayyad on as prime minister in a move adamantly opposed by Hamas, with the document noting the group's "irreversible" opposition to his continuation in the position.
Meshaal refused to be drawn on the fate of Fayyad, saying only that the make-up of the interim government would be discussed at a key meeting of the factions in Cairo next month.
The new reality gripping the Middle East left the rival Palestinian national movements no choice but to work together, he said.
"There is no other way but to get along with each other, being as we are in the middle of the Arab Spring with the winds of change sweeping the region," he said.
"The bitter experience with Netanyahu and his extremist clique, the inability of the international community to give us justice, the manifestly pro-Israel bias of the US administration which is busy with the presidential election -- all this obliges us to work for reconciliation," he said.
Meshaal said the two leaders had held "in-depth dialogue" in what was their first meeting since signing the deal in May.
"This is an important day and I hope that in the coming days we will see the same level of responsibility in terms of clarity, transparency and seriousness," he said.
"We want to agree on a real Palestinian strategy... and work together in a spirit of partnership with Fatah and all the (political) factions."