Al Qaeda Number 2 Ayman Al-Zawahiri Condemns Hamas for Accepting Unity Deal With Fatah

Al Qaeda's number two leader criticized the Palestinian Hamas for agreeing to respect past agreements with Israel as part of an accord to form a national unity government, according to an audio recording broadcast Sunday by Al-Jazeera satellite channel.

Ayman Al-Zawahiri's message was broadcast just minutes before the Israeli prime minister and the moderate Palestinian president ended their meeting in Jerusalem.

Al-Zawahiri, lieutenant to Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden, lashed out at Hamas over agreeing last month in the Saudi holy city of Mecca to forming a national unity government. Under that accord, the new government only agrees to "respect" past agreements, falling short of the international conditions.

Hamas and the Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are under pressure to agree on the final details of the Cabinet ahead of an Arab summit later this month that is expected to relaunch an initiative for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Hamas has fallen in the swamp of surrender," Ayman al-Zawahiri said in the excerpts broadcast by the Qatari-based channel

Al-Jazeera did not say how it obtained the audio recording and its authenticity could not be immediately verified. Excerpts broadcast were no longer than five minutes.

"I'm sorry to face the Islamic community with the painful truth, to offer condolences for the leadership of Hamas ... Hamas has fallen in the swamp of surrender," al-Zawhiri said.

Hamas has made a "mockery of Muslims minds and feelings" by saying that the accord reached in Mecca respects international agreements, al-Zawahiri said. "What is happening in Palestine is another form of humiliation."

"Today, in the time of deals, the leadership of Hamas has given up most of Palestine to the Jews ... Hamas' leadership has finally caught (late Egyptian President Anwar) Sadat's train of humiliation and surrender."

Egypt, under Sadat's leadership in 1979, was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel. Jordan is the only other Arab country to have established full relations with the Jewish state.

Calling the Hamas-led Cabinet a "farcical government," al-Zawahiri lashed out at its leadership saying it had "sold out Palestine, and before, it gave up on ruling by Sharia (Islamic law)." It gave up all of this, he said, "in order to be allowed to keep a third of government (seats)."

Western countries have boycotted the Palestinian government, led by Hamas after its electoral win in January 2005, over the Islamist group's refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Abbas won agreement in February from Hamas top leader Khaled Mashaal to form a national unity agreement. But the two sides have been struggling over the finer details of the arrangement they came to in the Saudi holy city of Mecca.

Olmert said Sunday he was ready to "treat seriously" a dormant Saudi initiative calling for a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

This initiative goes to the heart of infighting between Palestinian factions as the moderate Abbas has tried to form a national unity government with the radical Hamas to end the international isolation of the Palestinians.

On Friday, Abbas gave the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, two weeks to form the government. Selecting the interior minister has been a key sticking point.

Later this month, Saudi Arabia is to hold an Arab summit that is expected to try and relaunch a 2002 Saudi peace plan all Arab countries make peace with Israel in return for the lands Israel captured during the 1967 Mideast war.

Al-Zawahiri appeared in more than a dozen recordings posted on the Internet and obtained by Arab satellite channels last year. This is his fifth recording this year.

In late 2005, just weeks before Hamas swept the polls in Palestinian legislative elections, al-Zawahiri lashed out at Islamist groups for participating in electoral politics, saying that they will never win at the ballot box.

That recording came just after Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood organization made its best ever showing in parliamentary elections winning nearly a fifth of seats. His message appeared directed primarily at Hamas, which is an offshoot of the Egyptian Islamist group.