Hamas officials shrugged off the support offered by Al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, saying Sunday the Palestinian militant group has a different ideology than the terror network and won election through a moderate approach to Islam.
In a video aired Saturday by Al-Jazeera, Ayman Al-Zawahiri called for jihad, or holy war, to reclaim Palestinian lands and implied Al Qaeda's support for Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel despite international pressure since the militant Islamic group swept parliamentary elections in January.
A Hamas official in Gaza, speaking on condition of anonymity because the movement did not want to formally respond to Al-Zawahiri 's support, said: "Hamas believes that Islam is completely different to the ideology of Mr. Al-Zawahiri ."
"Our battle is against the Israeli occupation and our only concern is to restore our rights and serve our people. We have no links with any group or element outside Palestine," the official said.
Hamas is setting up a new Palestinian Cabinet after defeating Fatah, which had ruled Palestinian politics for four decades. Hamas does not accept the presence of a Jewish state in the Mideast and has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel. The United States and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
Al-Zawahiri complained in the videotape that the previous Palestinian leaderships "sold Palestine" through peace agreements in Oslo and Madrid and the U.S.-backed road map peace plan. "This is a dangerous deal which should be dropped immediately," he said.
"No one has the right, whether a Palestinian or not, to abandon a grain of soil from Palestine which was a Muslim land that was occupied by infidels. It is the duty of every Muslim to work on getting it back," he said.
In place of negotiations, he said, was "the path of prophets and messengers, which is ... jihad, until the soil will be liberated and the Islamic states rise again."
He agreed with Hamas' refusal to accept Israel or renounce its violent ideology and rejected President Bush's State of the Union message that the group would lose funding if it did not reform.
"To this regard I have to warn the Muslim brothers in Palestine. ... We know for sure that Palestine will not be liberated by the elections, but by jihad," Al-Zawahiri said. "I would like to tell my brothers in Palestine that reaching power is needed to implement Islamic rule."
But in what was seen by some as criticism of Hamas for running in elections, he said: "Entering with those who have sold Palestine, the legislative council, and recognizing their selling, stands against Islam."
Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader, told Al-Jazeera his group was elected through its moderate approach to Islam, which did not compare to Al Qaeda's exclusionary tactics.
"We are not a movement that labels people infidels or that abandons them. We are a movement that lives the realities of the people and that uses wisdom ... to turn them to Islam," he said.
"When Hamas entered parliament, it did so under the slogan: Islam is the solution. When the people decided to vote for it, they believed that Islam can solve their economic, social and political problems as well their military battles against the occupation."
He said Hamas has proved through its good behavior and its resistance to the occupation "that it is fit to be the leader of this street."
Al-Zawahiri also criticized the West for the insulting drawings of Islam's Prophet Muhammad and said Muslims were obliged to "confront the Crusaders' campaign against Islam with hands, tongues, facts and spears."
Al-Zawahiri , Usama bin Laden's deputy, has issued several video and audiotapes in the past year. His last video came on Jan. 31, in which he threatened a new attack against the United States.
Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri are believed to be in hiding along the rugged Pakistan-Afghan border.