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Hamas says attacks against Israel will continue even after Gaza withdrawl

Updated:
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ The Islamic militant group Hamas will continue attacks against Israelis, despite Israel's plans to withdraw settlements and military bases from the Gaza Strip, a top Hamas leader in Gaza said Saturday.

Mahmoud Zahar's comments came as Egyptian officials worked on an agreement for maintaining security in Gaza, Hamas' stronghold, in the wake of a planned Israeli pullback.

Egypt has offered to send security advisers to Gaza to help train and equip Palestinian forces. Egypt has been in talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials on implementing the plan, though some in the Arab world have criticized it, saying it is helping protect Israel.

Zahar said Hamas opposes any security role.

``We are against any sort of commitment to any security steps on any side,'' Zahar told reporters in Gaza City. ``We are still in the resistance ... to free our land from the occupation.''

However, Zahar later said Hamas leaders abroad were expected to begin talks with Egyptian officials within several days.

Zahar spoke before a meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who made a rare trip to Gaza to meet with the heads of the various Palestinian security branches and members of Palestinian political and militant groups.

It was Zahar's first public appearance since the funeral of Hamas' Gaza leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who was assassinated by Israel in April. Many Hamas leaders have gone into hiding since then, though it is considered unlikely Israel would target Hamas leaders during a meeting with Qureia.

Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Cabinet approved a plan Sunday to evacuate settlements and soldiers from the volatile coastal strip, where 1.3 million Palestinians live in crowded poverty, by the end of 2005. Under the plan, Israel would maintain control of Gaza's coast, airspace and border with Egypt.

Zahar said that the continued Israeli presence was unacceptable.

``We do not trust the Israelis and we do not trust that the Israelis are going to withdraw from Gaza while they are speaking of controlling the sea and the air. Until the occupation completely ends, our resistance will continue,'' he said.

Zahar did leave open the possibility that Hamas, which rejects the existence of Israel and hopes to replace it with an Islamic state, could change its position.

``When we hear something concrete, about full sovereignty, we will think about what is proposed to us,'' he said. ``At this moment, our position stands firm. Our endeavor is a liberation endeavor, and if this liberation is not a full and comprehensive one, our endeavor will continue.''

On Friday, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called Sharon and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to thank them for their joint efforts to prepare security arrangements for Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal, according to government sources.

In addition to sending security advisers to Gaza, Egypt intends to increase the number of troops on its side of the border with Gaza and to help build new police stations and jails in the territory.

Egypt has also demanded Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat reorganize the nearly one dozen Palestinian security forces into three branches and give up much of his control over them.

Zahar warned Arab leaders not to cooperate with President Bush, and called on them all to reject his proposals for reform in the Arab world.
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