GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas condemned on Monday the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden as the assassination of an Arab holy warrior, differing sharply with the Palestinian Authority, the Islamist group’s partner in a new unity deal.
“We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs,” Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, told reporters.
In the occupied West Bank, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority welcomed the death in a U.S. raid in Pakistan of the al Qaeda leader and mastermind of the September 11 attacks.
“Getting rid of bin Laden is good for the cause of peace worldwide but what counts is to overcome the discourse and the methods — the violent methods — that were created and encouraged by bin Laden and others in the world,” PA spokesman Ghassan Khatib said.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said it was a “major, mega landmark event marking the end of a person who clearly was involved in acts of terror and destruction.”
In the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, Haniyeh accused the United States of pursuing a policy based on “oppression and the shedding of Arab and Muslim blood.”
“We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior,” he said.
Hamas, classified by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist group over its violence against Israel, is due to sign a unity deal this week in Cairo with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s more secular Fatah movement.
Israel has condemned the agreement, saying it could sabotage any efforts to revive peace talks with the Palestinians. The deal envisages an interim unity government comprised of independents and Palestinian elections later in the year.
Haniyeh’s comments on bin Laden’s death underscored the deep Palestinian divide the Egyptian-brokered reconciliation efforts were meant to close and seemed likely to help drive an Israeli diplomatic campaign against the unity accord.
Political analysts in the Gaza Strip said Haniyeh was attempting through his remarks to cool tensions in the territory with al Qaeda-inspired Salafi groups. They consider Hamas too moderate and waged gun battles recently with its forces.
“Haniyeh took in his consideration the situation in Gaza and the strong presence of Salafi groups. It was an attempt to reconcile with them after the fighting,” said analyst Hani Habib.
The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority supports a negotiated peace with Israel to obtain a state in territories the Jewish state captured in a 1967 war. Hamas is officially sworn to Israel’s destruction.
Abbas has defended reconciliation with Hamas, saying it reflected a deep-seated Palestinian desire to close a rift with the group that seized Gaza from Fatah forces in 2007.
The United States has responded coolly to the unity pact.
Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta and Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah, Writing by Jeffrey Heller