GAZA The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas rejected on Monday criticism by al Qaeda's second-in-command and said it was still committed to Israel's destruction despite a power-sharing deal with the Fatah faction.
"We will not betray promises we made to God to continue the path of Jihad and resistance until the liberation of Palestine, all of Palestine," Hamas said in a statement, in a clear reference to Israel as well as to the occupied West Bank.
In an audio recording posted on the Internet on Sunday, al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahri accused Hamas of serving U.S. interests by agreeing to respect past Palestinian peace accords with Israel in a recent Saudi-brokered unity government deal with moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah.
The coalition agreement fell short of meeting demands by the Quartet of peace mediators -- the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia -- to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing interim peace deals.
Zawahri said the Mecca accord, which calmed weeks of Hamas-Fatah warfare in which more than 90 Palestinians were killed, was part of an attempt by Washington to offset Muslim anger at what he described as its bias toward Israel.
"It is an American scheme to hit the Islamic jihadist resistance against the Crusader-Zionist campaign. America wanted a sham solution to the Palestinian issue to remove the biggest reason for Muslim hatred (of the United States)," he said.
Zawahri accused Hamas of abandoning a tradition of suicide bombings for political gains. "They have ditched the movement of martyrdom operations ... for a government that plays with words in palace halls," he said.
Hamas killed nearly 300 Israelis in 58 suicide bombings after a Palestinian uprising began in 2000. It last carried out a suicide bombing in Israel in 2004.
In its statement Hamas said it continued to be a "movement of resistance, seekers of martyrdom" and that its "principles will never be changed".
"Zawahri's recent statements were wrong ... Resistance is our strategy. How and when? This depends on the reality at the time and our corresponding view of things," Hamas said.
"So be assured doctor Ayman, and all those who love Palestine like yourself, that Hamas is still the group you knew when it was founded and it will never abandon its path."
Hamas said its decision to run in the January 2006 Palestinian election that brought it to power and last month's unity deal with Fatah "came only to preserve the higher interests of the Palestinian people".
Hamas leaders have offered a long-term truce with Israel in return for a viable Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The group's 1988 founding chapter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.