Source AP ©

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar sais the group is open to cease-fire with Israel

The man leading the new Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip said that his group wants to maintain calm in the area, but will not be the "protector" of the Israeli border.

Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas figure in Gaza, said the group is open to a cease-fire with Israel if the army halts its activities in Gaza and the West Bank. He said Hamas is capable of halting the frequent rocket attacks out of Gaza.

"When we decide, yes," he said. "But nobody will be the protector of the Israeli border," he told The Associated Press in an interview.

There has been a drop in rocket fire at Israel since Hamas seized power last week, though one rocket landed in Israel on Wednesday, causing no injuries, the army said. The Islamic Jihad militant group claimed responsibility.

Zahar is a founder of Hamas who served as foreign minister in the Hamas-only government that stepped down in March to make way for a coalition with the rival Fatah movement. The unity government collapsed during last week's fighting. Zahar has close ties with Hamas' military wing.

Following the Hamas takeover, the Palestinians have two rival governments: President Mahmoud Abbas' moderate Cabinet in the West Bank and the Islamic Hamas rulers of Gaza. The international community has embraced Abbas, offering hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, while shunning Hamas.

Zahar said he was confident Abbas will direct some of the aid to Gaza, since Abbas claims his government represents all Palestinians. "If he uses this money only for the West Bank, he will be unable to speak a single word as the representative of the Palestinian people in Gaza."

Zahar said Hamas' priority is to rebuild Gaza after the recent fighting, and called for dialogue with his Fatah foes. But he said certain Fatah leaders, including Abbas' former Gaza strongman, Mohammed Dahlan, will not be allowed to return.

"Dahlan and his group are not welcome. If they are here, they are going to have to face trials," he said.

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