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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Al-Zawahri Criticizes Palestinian Election

Osama bin Laden's second-in-command criticized both sides of the Palestinian power struggle in a videotape aired Wednesday, calling the Palestinian president "America's man" but also lashing out at the Islamic group Hamas.

Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri scoffed at the plan to hold early elections in the Palestinian territories, saying voting would lead only to defeat and the right policy was armed struggle.

"Any way other than holy war, will lead us only to loss and defeat," al-Zawahri said in clips broadcast by Al-Jazeera, the Qatari-based satellite channel.

He did not say whom the Palestinians should fight, but previously he has always recommended "holy war" against Israel and the West.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called early elections to end the increasingly violent rivalry between his moderate Fatah party and the militant Hamas movement, which dominates the parliament.

Al-Zawahri described Abbas as "America's man in Palestine," and warned that if Palestinians accepted him as their president, it would be "the end of holy war."

Al-Jazeera declined to comment on how and when it obtained the tape, the 15th time al-Qaida's No. 2 has sent out a statement this year.

Al-Zawahri appeared exactly as in previous videos that have been authenticated by CIA analysts. He wore a black turban and white robe and pointed his finger at the camera for emphasis. As usual, he had a rifle behind his right shoulder that was leaning against a plain brown backdrop.

In what appeared to be a referrence to Abbas and Fatah, al-Zawahri said: "Those who are trying to liberate the Islamic territories through elections based on secular constitutions, or on decisions to hand over Palestine to the Jews, will not liberate one grain of sand of Palestine."

He also criticized the Hamas party - although he did not name it - accusing the group of making a number of concessions that would ultimately lead to "the recognition of Israel."

Among them, he mentioned the group's participation in January elections "based on a secular constitution."

Al-Zawahri rebuked Hamas for not pushing for an Islamic constitution before it contested the Palestinian elections.

"Aren't they an Islamic movement? Aren't they campaigning for the word of God to be supreme?" he said, adding the party should have insisted on the drafting of "an Islamic constitution for Palestine."

The broadcast came two days after a militant Islamic Web site announced that a message from al-Zawahri was forthcoming.

In two videos broadcast in September to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, al-Zawahri denounced the reinforced U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon and called President Bush a liar.

There was no immediate Palestinian reaction, but al-Zawahri's comments were unlikely to have much impact. Hamas has distanced itself from al-Qaida, saying its struggle is against Israel, not the West at large.

"I don't think it would have any impact," said Diaa Rashwan, an expert on militant groups at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

Abbas has accused al-Qaida of infiltrating the Palestinian territories, but Palestinian security officials say there is no hard evidence of that. They accuse local groups of fabricating links to al-Qaida as a diversion.

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