|A photo of Bin Laden on display on a |
stall in Judea and Samaria
Hamas, the militant group which has just signed a deal to join the Palestinian government, on Monday condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden.
While many Middle East leaders welcomed America’s military action, the mixed reaction across the region cast a shadow over both the “Arab Spring” and the future of talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Many Arab leaders facing popular uprisings, including Col Gaddafi of Libya, have claimed the protests are backed by al-Qaeda. Those claims have largely been rejected by protest groups but many in the West are concerned at the possibility that greater freedom of expression will allow more room for Islamic militants to operate.
The Hamas prime minister of the Gaza strip, Ismail Haniya, said: “We condemn the assassination of a Muslim and Arab warrior and we pray to God that his soul rests in peace.
“We regard this as the continuation of the American oppression and shedding of blood of Muslims and Arabs.”
The Hamas reaction put it immediately at odds with Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, with which it is due to sign a unity deal today to join the Palestinian government.
The intransigent tone will confirm Israeli and American fears that the reconciliation between the two feuding Palestinian factions will make a peace deal impossible.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which is linked to Hamas but has renounced violence at home, was more ambiguous but its response also suggested it opposed the action. It issued a statement saying it was “against violence in general, against assassinations and in favor of fair trials.”
“With bin Laden’s death, one of the reasons for which violence has been practised in the world has been removed,” Essam al-Erian, one of its spokesmen, said.
With both Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist group by both Britain and the US, and the Brotherhood set to play a greater role - Hamas in the Occupied Territories and the Brotherhood in post-revolutionary Egypt - their words mark the latest clear step away from the automatic support for counter-terror operations the West has come to expect.
Although al-Qaeda was thought to have been beaten in most of the heartland nations of the Arab world, the threat jihadism still poses was reflected in government statements and in numerous expressions of sympathy on the street and radical websites.
Saudi Arabia, bin Laden’s homeland and the country whose royal family he had pledged to overthrow, issued an unqualified welcome. “Saudi Arabia hopes that the elimination of the leader of the terrorist Al-Qaeda organisation will be a step towards supporting international efforts aimed at combating terrorism,” a statement said.
Yemen, which is fighting its own branch of the organisation, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, also welcomed the news. One AQAP member told a reporter for Agence France Presse that the news, which had been confirmed by fellow operatives in Pakistan, was a “catastrophe”.
One commentator well-known on jihadist websites by the pseudonym “Assad al-Jihad2” pledged revenge. “Woe to his enemies,” he wrote. “By God, we will avenge the killing of the sheikh of Islam. Those who wish that jihad has ended or weakened, I tell them: let us wait a little bit.”
Tellingly, staunch western allies such as the United Arab Emirates kept silent. Analysts said they feared provoking retaliatory attacks, despite the high levels of security in the region.
Even in Dubai, some ordinary residents expressed regret at bin Laden’s death.
Ironically, the death of bin Laden may prompt Al-Qaeda cells throughout the region to take a more active role in Arab Spring uprisings as a way of proving their strength, said Theodore Karasik, of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
“Because of bin Laden’s death they are going to be working more in tandem with each other,” he said.
for declaring a PA a state.
As Hamas and Fatah leaders arrived in Cairo Monday to sign a unity agreement, Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh said, responding to Bin Laden's elimination, "We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood.
“We and the killing of an Arab holy warrior. We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and martyrs. If these [sic] news are true, then this makes it part of the American policy based on oppression and bloodshed in the Muslim and Arab world,” the official Hamas website stated in Haniyeh's name.
The United States swiftly and angrily responded to what U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said were ”outrageous” remarks. Bin Laden “ordered the killings of thousands of innocent men, women and children... many of whom were Muslim. He did not die a martyr. He died hiding in a mansion, or a compound, far away from the violence that was carried out in his name,” Toner stated.
In Britain, Foreign Secretary William Hague used much softer language. He said that the new Fatah-Hamas unity would help promote peace with Israel “if it was possible to show across many different divides in the world a good deal of unity about what happened on Sunday night and the removal of the author of some of the world's greatest terrorist acts from the scene.
"It would have been better for Hamas to join the welcome to that. That would have been a boost in itself to the peace process."
The Quartet, which includes the United States and Britain, has specifically said in the past that Hamas cannot be recognized as legitimate if it does not recognize Israel and renounce violence, conditions which Haniyeh steadfastly rejects, all the while advancing the proposed unity accord with "peace-seeking" Fatah.
Toner left the door open for Hamas. “If Hamas wants to play a role in the political process, then it needs to abide by the Quartet principles …renouncing violence and terrorism, recognizing Israel’s right to exist, and abiding by previous diplomatic agreements."
Neither the United States nor Britain has stated that the unity pact is not acceptable under present circumstances. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu flew to Britain Wednesday morning to make his case against the pact and against Abbas’ diplomatic campaign to convince the United Nations to declare the PA as a state based on the 1949 Armistice Lines.
Abbas still demands that Israel expel nearly 600,000 thousand Jews living in united Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, cede all of the land and building to the PA, and accept the immigration of several million foreign Arabs into Israel.
The Prime Minister is scheduled to conclude his European diplomatic campaign with a visit to France. Later this month, he will address the U.S. Congress, where he is expected to make an .. There is much speculation about how its content has been affected by Hamas-Fatah unity.