Hamas takes fight to the hustings
Ben Lynfield in Ramallah, West Bank
Fresh from its self-declared victory of forcing the Israeli army to leave the Gaza Strip, Hamas, the militant Islamic resistance movement, is shifting into election mode.
Hamas is hoping to use the widely held perception that its Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades armed wing blasted Israel out of Gaza as a way to win votes in its first foray into parliamentary elections, due in January.
It also is hoping to exploit security chaos, perceived corruption on the part of the Palestinian Authority and president Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, and the sense that advocacy of negotiations with Israel has gone nowhere.
The movement's spokesman in the West Bank, Hassan Youssef, touched on all of those points in a fiery speech to thousands at a rally in Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital.
Mr Youssef flatly ruled out that Hamas might amend its covenant calling for Israel's destruction despite statements to that effect by another Hamas leader, Mohammed Ghazal, last week. Mr Ghazal and Mr Youssel were arrested at the weekend in an Israeli sweep against Palestinian militants.
'Our weapons and our covenant are not tactics or a game, and we make no choice but them,' Mr Youssef said. Rather, he said, Hamas, which has carried out dozens of suicide bombings against civilian targets, would participate in national politics while 'adhering to the resistance'.
Behind him, six masked men held up Kalashnikov rifles and a huge poster showed an Ezzedine al-Qassam fighter standing on the remains of a Jewish settlement.
Some in the crowd wore T-shirts saying: 'The choice of the resistance has won'.
Towards the end of his remarks, Mr Youssef harped on the issue of corruption.
'Positions must be given to people who have the skills, knowledge and experience, regardless of the organisation to which they belong.'
Israel has said it will not co-operate with the holding of elections unless Hamas disarms and amends its covenant.
The latest polls predict Mr Abbas' Fatah movement gaining 47 per cent of the votes, with Hamas scoring a solid 30 per cent.