GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza's ruling Hamas will not be cowed by threatened funding cuts, a senior leader said Wednesday, signaling escalating tensions between the militants and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas has threatened to take "unprecedented" financial steps to force Hamas to cede control in Gaza, a territory it seized from his forces in 2007. Reconciliation attempts between rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza have failed.
The renewed push to regain a foothold in Gaza comes ahead of Abbas' meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House next week. Abbas is under pressure to show that he represents all Palestinians, including those in Gaza.
Khalil al-Haya, the second highest ranking Hamas leader in Gaza, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Abbas will fail "if he tries to make Gaza kneel or expects to win our loyalty by force."
He spoke as Abbas met with top officials from his Fatah movement in the West Bank on Wednesday evening to consider further wage and subsidy cuts for Gaza.
In an initial step, Abbas had reduced by one-third the salaries of tens of thousands of employees of the pre-Hamas government in Gaza who had been paid for the last decade, on condition that they stay home. The ongoing salary payments had been intended to ensure loyalty to Abbas, but inadvertently also propped up Hamas by injecting cash into Gaza's fragile economy.
Gaza, a tiny territory of 2 million people on the Mediterranean, has suffered through increasing hardship since the Hamas takeover, which triggered a border blockade by neighboring Israel and Egypt. In recent years, Gazans have endured rolling power cuts, with electricity now available for only six hours a day.
Al-Haya warned in an interview that further pressure on Gaza would backfire.
"You can't punish the one who lives in tough conditions," al-Haya said. "Gaza is an explosive barrel and he (Abbas) cannot press this barrel more. If he does, it's going to explode in his face and in all directions."
Al-Haya also said Hamas plans to unveil its new political program on Monday.
The manifesto is seen as an attempt by the internationally isolated Hamas to improve ties with Egypt and the West, and to present a more moderate image that will help it get off Western terrorism lists.
"It represents a development in Hamas' political ideology," said al-Haya. "We say clearly that the conflict is not a religious one, that there is no enmity toward Jews as Jews but that we are fighting the occupation."
In the program, Hamas characterizes itself as a Palestinian resistance movement against Israeli occupation, dropping references to holy war against Jews.
It also raises the possibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. It does not say whether this would be a stepping stone to an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine, including Israel.
The document plays down ties to Hamas' parent movement, the regional Muslim Brotherhood, which is being targeted by Egypt's government as a terror organization.