RAMALLAH/GAZA (Reuters) - The killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces was welcomed on Monday by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority while its prospective power-sharing partner, Islamist Hamas, deplored his death.
“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,” Palestinian Authority (PA) spokesman Ghassan Khatib said.
Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, called bin Laden a martyr.
“We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior,” Haniyeh told reporters. “We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood.”
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 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.
The Fatah-led PA 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.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, the PA’s view on the death of the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks was shared by Ahmed Saleh, a 58-year-old retiree.
“The world is better without bin Laden. This has removed a pillar of evil from the world,” he said. “His heinous actions were exploited to allow hostile policies toward the Arabs and Muslims.”
But Umm Mohammed, a veiled woman, said she hoped news of bin Laden’s death was a lie. “God willing, he will continue to conquer the West,” she said.
Palestinians hit the headlines after the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, carried out by al Qaeda, when a small group were filmed celebrating in East Jerusalem.
At the time, there were bigger demonstrations in the Gaza Strip in support of the attacks. Palestinians partly blame their national plight on generations of U.S. support for Israel.
But late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat banned such public displays and voiced sympathy for the dead in the United States.
In Gaza, Hamas now faces a challenge from al Qaeda-inspired groups that consider it to be too moderate. One such group was behind last month’s killing of a pro-Palestinian Italian activist in the territory.
Abdel-Qader Abu Shaaban, a 53-year-old Palestinian from Gaza, described bin Laden’s killing as “a very criminal act.”
“This is not a victory. If they assassinated bin Laden, there will be others stronger than him: politicians and military people,” he said.