GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Friday said the Hamas militant group will never recognize Israel’s right to exist, rejecting a key demand of the international community and signaling further deadlock in efforts to forge a Palestinian coalition government.
Haniyeh’s declaration was likely to increase tensions with President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been urging Hamas to recognize Israel as a way to ending Western sanctions against the Palestinians. Hamas has refused, and talks over forming a power-sharing government with Abbas’ Fatah movement have stalled over the issue.
“Israel might have secured the recognition of some of our people, and some in the Arab world and in the international community. It is now seeking another recognition, Islamic recognition,” Haniyeh said in a sermon after Friday prayers in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis. “I say we will not give it this card.”
Hamas will not recognize Israel “no matter for how long,” he said, adding that the group will not give up its armed struggle against the Jewish state. “Resistance is a legitimate right … We will not give up our right to defend ourselves.”
Hamas gained control of the Palestinian Authority after winning legislative elections in January. Israel and Western donors have cut hundreds of millions of dollars in transfers to the authority, demanding that Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept past Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
The militant group rejects the demands, despite widespread hardship caused by the sanctions. Abbas has been pressuring Hamas to enter a coalition with Fatah in hopes of forcing the group to moderate its ideology.
Qatar’s foreign minister visited Gaza this week with proposed guidelines for the coalition, but the initiative failed after Hamas rejected elements calling for recognizing Israel.
The continued deadlock has led to rising tensions between Hamas and Fatah. At least 12 people were killed in factional fighting last week. In new violence, a Fatah security member was killed by unknown gunmen on Thursday, while a Hamas leader was killed by unknown assailants in a separate incident.
With Fatah blaming Hamas for the deadlock, the Islamic group is increasingly appealing to the public for support. In a Friday sermon in Gaza City, Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas official, accused the United States of trying to impose a new government on the Palestinians. “They don’t want us to worship God. They want us to worship America,” he said.