GAZA (Reuters) -The armed wing of Hamas rejected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s call for the deployment of international troops in the Gaza Strip, vowing on Saturday to attack them like other “occupation forces.”
Abbas dismissed a Hamas-led unity government and formed his own administration in the occupied West Bank after Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip two weeks ago.
Abbas, who leads the secular Fatah faction, told French President Nicolas Sarkozy during a visit to Paris on Friday that he wanted an international peacekeeping force to move into Gaza in order to ensure free elections can be held there.
“We will not allow any foreign forces to step a foot into the Gaza Strip and we will deal with them as occupation forces,” Hamas’s Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement. “We will only receive these forces with shells and rockets.”
Qassam Brigades said it believed Abbas only supported the deployment of international troops in order to undercut the group’s control over the Gaza Strip.
Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-led government that was dismissed by Abbas, said there was no need for foreign troops to intervene in Gaza.
But he did not outright reject the idea of such a force ensuring free elections as part of an agreement with all Palestinian factions.
“A forced election will not be the solution,” Hamad said. “If all factions agreed to holding election, then there will be no problem at all.”
Israel, the European Union and the United Nations have all said they would be open to consider an international force for the Gaza Strip.
But Israeli officials and Western diplomats doubt major powers will agree to send forces into Gaza with a mandate to act against militants, as demanded by Israel.
Israel had long resisted Palestinian calls for international peacekeepers in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, saying their deployment would interfere with Israeli security measures.
But Israel signaled flexibility after last year’s Lebanon war, which ended with a boosted UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) peacekeeper force in former Hezbollah guerrilla strongholds.
Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005.