Hamas hints at three month deadline to lift embargo

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh issued a vague warning on Friday that Hamas would reassess its options if economic sanctions are not lifted on the Palestinian unity government within two to three months.

Haniyeh did not say what the Islamic militant group would do if his timeline was not met, but a top aide, Ghazi Hamad, said dissolving the unity government was not an option.

“We have given what we were required,” Haniyeh told Gaza worshippers before prayers. “We have made a unity government and a political programme based on common grounds and now what is needed is to lift the siege.”

“If the siege continues for two to three more months, we will study our options… and we will take a decision that will protect our dignity and will protect our interests,” Haniyeh said without elaborating.

Haniyeh issued the vague warning three times in his first speech after attending a summit in Saudi Arabia in which Arab leaders relaunched a 2002 plan for peace with Israel.

In the two weeks since Haniyeh formed a unity government with President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, the United States and other Western powers have eased their year-old diplomatic boycott by holding talks with non-Hamas ministers.

At the Riyadh summit, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah called for ending the international blockade on the Palestinian government and Arab states pledged $55 million a month in financial support.

But it is unclear how much of that money will materialise. A Western ban on direct aid to the government remains in place, Israel continues to withhold Palestinian tax revenues, and banks have so far refused to transfer the government’s funds.

The power-sharing deal between Hamas and Fatah is also showing signs of strain.

Factional fighting has flared up in Gaza and Abbas’s appointment of one of Hamas’s long-time foes, Mohammad Dahlan, as national security adviser, has stoked tensions.

At the Riyadh summit, Arab leaders renewed a plan that offers Israel normal ties with all Arab countries in return for withdrawal from land seized in the 1967 Middle East war, the creation of a Palestinian state and a “just solution” for Palestinians displaced in 1948 with Israel’s creation.

Like Israel, Hamas has not endorsed the plan.

In Friday’s speech, Haniyeh said Hamas will never recognise Israel or compromise on the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in what is now Israel.

Haniyeh made clear Hamas was willing “in this stage” to accept a state in the Gaza Strip, the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. But Hamas remains committed to establishment of a Muslim state in all of British-mandated Palestine, including what is now Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a newspaper interview published on Friday that the right of return is “out of the question” for the Jewish state.

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