Thursday, June 28, 2007
"Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad delivered a stern warning Thursday to hundreds of Islamic preachers, including Hamas supporters, saying his government will not tolerate incitement in mosques. Fayad's warning also included his government's intentions to collect all weapons from Palestinian militants.
Fayad's meeting with some 800 Muslim clergy marked the latest attempt to stem the influence of Hamas in the West Bank, following the goup's violent takeover of Gaza earlier this month.
Hamas is influential in many mosques in the West Bank and Gaza, and has been using Friday sermons as a vehicle for spreading its message. Preachers have also been actively involved in politics.
Security forces have arrested dozens of Hamas activists in the West Bank, and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is trying to dry up Hamas' funding with a review of all private organizations......
In his meeting with clergymen Thursday, Fayad was accompanied by Abbas' top security official, Interior Minister Abdel Razak Yehiyeh. "We will collect weapons and replace them with pens and books," the minister told the crowd. "The phenomenon of militants is very dangerous, and we want to stop it in all forms."
Fayad told the preachers to take politics out of their sermons. "We won't allow them (mosques) to be turned into places of incitement and intimidation," he said. "It's the responsibility of men of religion to ... present religion as a way of tolerance, not as a cover for bloodshed."
In Nablus, seven of eight Hamas members of parliament are preachers, said Suhair al-Dubai, a moderate clergyman from the city.
"The government has realized how important the mosques are in forming and leading public opinion," said al-Dubai, who attended the meeting with Fayad. "But Hamas is very well organized in mosques ... The government can restrict them, but not eliminate them because they are part of a structure and can always find a way to play a political role."
Mohammed Abu al-Hasan, a Hamas preacher from the West Bank town of Jenin, said clerics would continue to speak their minds, regardless of any government directive.
"We will not accept these restrictions and we are going to respond with our own message in this Friday's sermons," he said. "Fayad is a politician, he can handle political issues and we...can handle religious issues.""