DAMASCUS, Syria – Hamas said Thursday that President Barack Obama's position toward the Palestinians does not represent change and will lead to the same mistakes as his predecessor, shortly after the new leader made his first public comments on the Gaza crisis since his inauguration.
Obama said the cease-fire that recently ended the three week Israeli offensive in Gaza can only hold if Hamas stops firing rockets, Israel completes its withdrawal from Gaza and the U.S. and its allies support an anti-smuggling system that prevents the militant Palestinian group from rearming.
Israel withdrew the last of its forces from Gaza on Wednesday, a day after Obama succeeded former President George W. Bush. Palestinian officials say the fighting in Gaza killed some 1,300 people.
Beirut-based Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan dismissed the new president's comments, saying "Obama is still on the same path as previous leaders and also will make the same mistakes as Bush that ignited the region instead of bringing stability."
"Obama is insisting on not bringing any change even though his campaign slogan promised to bring change," Hamdan told Al-Jazeera television in an interview. "I don't think this is a very successful step toward dealing with the region, and this will mean the next 4 years will be a failure for the region."
The spokesman said Obama should have talked about the need for Israel not to attack Gaza rather than for Hamas to stop its rocket fire.
Israel launched its devastating air and ground assault on Dec. 27 to try to halt rocket fire from Gaza. Both sides ceased fire on Sunday, but significant challenges remain to achieve a sustainable peace, including reconciling the two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah.
Hamas called Thursday for reconciliation with supporters of Fatah leader Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas but insisted on pursuing "resistance" against Israel.
The condition appeared to preclude any agreement with Abbas, who seeks a peace deal with Israel and whose moderate Fatah faction was not among the groups that backed the statement by eight Damascus-based radical Palestinian factions including Hamas.
Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah by force in 2007 and Fatah set up a rival Palestinian government in the West Bank. It has been conducting peace talks with Israel for more than a year.
The eight factions said they will reject any political reconciliation deals that hinder the "continuity of the resistance" against Israel, a condition Fatah is sure to reject.
Israel had no immediate comment.
The U.S. and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group. It is sworn to Israel's destruction, a stance that has brought international efforts to isolate Gaza under its rule.
Abbas' Prime Minister Salam Fayyad made an urgent plea for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, saying the alternative is a permanent rift that will destroy Palestinians' dreams for a state of their own.
"The world would like to help us but everyone says that we should have a national unity government," he said after meeting with donor country representatives in his West Bank office Thursday.
But Hamas leaders have been cool to suggestions of power-sharing with Fatah after the war.
While they were calling for national reconciliation, senior Hamas officials also insisted Thursday that Hamas have sole control over all international donations to rebuild Gaza, saying Fatah cannot be trusted to handle the aid.
"We have a legitimate government in Gaza that came through a democratic choice, and it is working on the streets, and it is a legitimate body to receive the aid and to rebuild Gaza," Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas official in Gaza, told The Associated Press.
Control over reconstruction funds would put huge sums of aid money expected to flood in from abroad at Hamas' fingertips and could also give the group a measure of international recognition.
Saudi Arabia alone has pledged $1 billion for Gaza's reconstruction, and the international community has promised massive help.
Obama said Thursday that Abbas' Palestinian Authority should control the aid.
"The United States will fully support an international donor's conference to seek short-term humanitarian assistance and long-term reconstruction for the Palestinian economy," Obama said at the State Department. "This assistance will be provided to and guided by the Palestinian Authority."
For Gaza's reconstruction to begin, blockaded border crossings will have to be opened to allow supplies and aid in. But that remains a thorny issue.
Israel and Egypt have kept the crossings largely closed since Hamas seized power over Gaza in June 2007, choking off most supplies to the tiny seaside territory and trapping most of its 1.4 million people inside. Hamas says the borders must be opened as part of any long-term cease-fire deal.
Some sort of reconciliation between the rival Palestinian factions could be key to a workable plan for setting up border controls to stop weapons smuggling to Hamas through the Gaza-Egypt border, a key Israeli demand.
Egypt has said it will only open its border with Gaza if Abbas' Palestinian Authority forces take up positions there, in line with a 2005 agreement.
Hamas has long demanded control over the crossing with Egypt.
Obama said Gaza's borders should be opened to allow aid to come in, with "appropriate monitoring."